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Brookline

Eco-friendly plastic bag proves an elusive find

Most customers at Brookline Booksmith decline plastic bags when asked, but want them if it is raining or snowing.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File 2008

Most customers at Brookline Booksmith decline plastic bags when asked, but want them if it is raining or snowing.

To prevent her store from routinely handing out plastic bags, Brookline Booksmith co-owner Dana Brigham has her employees ask customers whether they would like a bag when they make a purchase.

About 90 percent of the time, customers at the Coolidge Corner store say no, and opt to carry the book or put it in a bag they already have, said Brigham.

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But when it’s raining or snowing outside, Brigham said, customers want a plastic bag to protect the items they just purchased, and that is where the “real tension” will arise later this year when Brookline’s new ban on disposable plastic bags kicks in.

Brigham has been unable to find a plastic bag her store can use that complies with the new bylaw’s requirement that the bags be compostable and marine- degradable. As a result, customers may have to bring a reusable bag or settle for a paper bag that won’t offer as much protection in inclement weather.

“We know we have a few months yet to figure it out, but it does seem a little bit tough,” said Brigham about how best to comply with the law.

‘We know we have a few months yet to figure it out, but it does seem a little bit tough to figure out.’

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As many as 90 businesses will have to deal with the plastic bag dilemma in the coming months, and food service businesses in town will need to find replacements for polystyrene containers as Brookline officials implement bans on disposable plastic bags and disposable polystyrene containers.

One well-known business, Dunkin’ Donuts, plans to test double-walled paper coffee cups in Brookline stores starting next month.

Brookline’s Town Meeting approved both bans last November, but in an effort to give businesses time to adapt, the bylaws weren’t scheduled to take effect until Dec. 1, 2013.

However, Alan Balsam, the town’s director of public health and human services, said he suspects many businesses will be forced to request temporary waivers asking for even more time.

“This is going to be onerous for some businesses,” he said. “It is going to take them some time to figure out and to comply.”

Legislatively, however, the bans have cleared their final hurdle. In April, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office approved the bans, saying they do not conflict with state law and are within Brookline’s power to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its inhabitants.

Brookline is not the only Massachusetts town to approve the bans. Nantucket has banned the bags for years, Manchester-by-the-Sea voted to ban plastic bags this spring, and Great Barrington approved a plastic bag ban in May and could implement the law as soon as July 1, said Linda Coons, the community’s assistant town clerk. In May, Somerville approved a ban on polystyrene containers, commonly referred to as Styrofoam.

“I think it’s fair to say that this is a trend,” Balsam said. “These things are going to be happening.”

Brookline has been accelerating its efforts to implement the laws, but even the process of determining which businesses will be affected by the bans has proven to be complex, Balsam said. The town is spending $28,000 to hire another part-time employee to help with the transitions.

The ban on disposable plastic bags will affect any retail space with at least 2,500 square feet or stores that have at least three locations combined in Brookline totaling that amount of space. Any retail pharmacy with at least two locations under the same ownership in Brookline will also be prohibited from providing disposable, plastic check-out bags, as will any supermarket with annual gross sales of more than $1 million.

Balsam said his staff will be sending out letters to about 180 businesses over the summer asking them how much square footage their store has. He said he expects about 80 to 90 to be affected by the plastic bag ban, and every food service business in the town will have to comply with the ban on disposable polystyrene containers.

Balsam said restaurants that now provide polystyrene containers for coffee, such as Dunkin’ Donuts, or for takeout food orders, will have alternatives to use instead.

Karen Raskopf, the chief communications officer for Dunkin’ Brands, said Dunkin’ Donuts is working diligently to find a paper cup that keeps drinks hot, hands cool, and is better for the planet. The company will begin testing the double-walled paper coffee cup with a compatible lid in five Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in Brookline beginning in July.

Karen Raskopf, the chief communications officer for Dunkin’ Brands, said Dunkin’ Donuts is working diligently to find a paper cup that keeps drinks hot, hands cool, and is better for the planet.

The company will begin testing the double-walled paper coffee cup with a compatible lid in five Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants in Brookline beginning in July.

“The results of this test will help inform the development of a long-term cup solution that will be in place to comply with the Brookline ordinance in December, as well as other select communities that have passed similar ordinances,” Raskopf said.

Businesses won’t find any alternative disposable plastic bags that are compostable and marine-degradable, as required by the bans, Balsam said.

“I think there is a little bit of consternation out there because I think some businesses thought there would be plastic bags they could buy that would be compliant with the ban,” Balsam said. “Turns out there are no such bags for sale in America.”

Harry Robinson, executive director for the Brookline Chamber of Commerce, said he has heard support for the bans from businesses and no major opposition at this point, though some concerns linger.

“We’re always concerned that this will be a monetary or competitive disadvantage for businesses in Brookline,” Robinson said.

Suzi Robinson, a spokeswoman for Stop & Shop, said the company already complies with plastic bag bans in Nantucket and a town in Connecticut. She said the supermarket chain is still preparing for the new ordinance in Brookline.

“At this point, we will certainly emphasize reusable bags and offer paper bags,” she said.

Clint Richmond, a Town Meeting member who helped spearhead the ban on plastic bags, said by giving businesses more than a year before the bans kicked in, Brookline provided a generous lead time for them to comply. He said the goal is to ban plastics that are hazardous and harmful to the environment and to educate people by getting them to think about plastic packaging.

Richmond said shoppers all survived without plastic bags before they became commonplace in supermarkets in the 1980s, and other cities and towns, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, have already banned disposable plastic bags.

“It’s only new and radical on the East Coast,” he said.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.

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