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Newburyport advances toward ban on plastic shopping bags

The Newburyport City Council passed a ban on plastic shopping bags last Monday, making it the first city in the state to take that step to cut down on waste, according to city officials.

The ban that keeps retailers from supplying nonbiodegradable, thin-film plastic bags with integral handles — such as supermarket shopping bags — passed by a 6 to 5 vote.

The new ordinance will go into effect 180 days from when Mayor Donna Holaday, who has voiced her support for the ban, signs off on it.

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Several towns in the state have already enacted similar bans, including Brookline, Great Barrington, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Marblehead, and Nantucket, but Newburyport is the first city.

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Plastic bag exemptions in Newburyport will include those used for newspapers, dry cleaning, garbage, and dog waste, as well as supermarket items such as loose fruits and vegetables and wrap used for meats and fish.

Restaurants, farmers markets, and food pantries will not be subject to the ban, according to Allison Heartquist, councilor for Ward 1.

The ordinance calls for the first violation to result in a warning, and that any subsequent violation within a 12-month period will result in a fine.

Retailers must pay $100 for the second violation, $200 for the third violation, and $500 for the fourth and each subsequent violation. People caught using banned bags will not be penalized.

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The city has three months after the mayor signs the ban to draft rules and regulations regarding implementation and enforcement of the ordinance.

Councilor at Large Ed Cameron, who voted for the measure, said the unintended consequences of banning plastic shopping bags could be an increased use of paper bags, but that “it’s a step in the right direction.”

“Paper is not an ideal solution, but it has less impact than plastic,” Cameron said. “On the balance this is a very reasonable approach.”

Councilor at Large Ari Herzog, who voted against the ordinance, said he is concerned that six months is not enough time to implement the ban, particularly for small businesses.

“The city is kidding itself that this will be in place in six months,” he said.

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The ban was spearheaded by a group of local residents called Citizens for Sustainable Bagging.

Sheila Taintor, who helped found the group, said a switch to paper is not inevitable — referring to shopping bags made from cloth, vegetable fiber, and other reusable materials — and there are measures that Newburyport can take so it does not become a “paper city.”

“We’re concerned about the environmental impacts on ourselves and other creatures that share this planet with us,” she said.

“This is one small step to start rectifying things. . . . We know this is a small step, but we’re proud of taking it.”

Katherine Landergan can be reached at katherine.land-ergan1@gmail.com.