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Shrewsbury has second thoughts about limiting plastic bags


This past week, Grafton became the 50th municipality in Massachusetts to curb the use of lightweight plastic shopping bags. On Monday, neighboring Shrewsbury may be one of the first to repeal such restrictions.

A year ago, Shrewsbury Town Meeting members voted to restrict traditional single-use plastic bags — the kind most stores offer at the checkout — and allow only those made of compostable and marine degradable plastics.

The measure passed by a nearly 40-vote margin without the support of the Board of Health, the Finance Committee, or the Board of Selectmen, all of which voted not to recommend it.

The Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club provided the model for the Shrewsbury bylaw. Clint Richmond, a volunteer with the group, said that single-use plastic bags have a harmful impact on the environment.


“Bags are a tremendous litter problem,” he said, adding that they pose a threat to animals. Advocates have suggested that alternatives like reusable plastic and cloth bags would decrease waste.

But at least one Shrewsbury resident doesn’t agree. According to Bob Ryan, “The plastic bag menace is not a menace.”

Ryan is the lead petitioner on Article 14, the proposed repeal being considered by Town Meeting this coming week.

Ryan said that he decided to pursue a reversal the day after the measure restricting plastic bags was passed.

“I was immediately on my warpath against it,” he said in a phone interview.

He cited the environmental impacts of increased reliance on paper bags and the cost to businesses to stock more expensive bags if the bylaw stands.

More broadly, Ryan sees the restrictions as government overreach: “I don’t think plastic bags should be banned; I think it’s an individual right,” he said. “When does the banning of things stop?”

The repeal, if passed, would come before the bag restrictions are even implemented. The original measure is scheduled to take effect on July 1.


The Sierra Club, which tracks municipal restrictions on plastic bags, is not aware of any successful repeals of similar bylaws in the state.

According to Missy Hollenback, the lead petitioner for the original article, the town has recently begun informing local businesses about the new rules. She worries that Shrewsbury would be sending mixed messages to those businesses, which she thinks would “decrease town credibility.”

Hollenback noted that a repeal would be especially disappointing because it is unusual for an article brought by petition to be passed by Town Meeting.

But if the original article could pass, it goes to show that its repeal can, too. Town Meeting begins Monday at 7 p.m.

Lucas Phillips can be reached at