Haverhill Officially Enacts Plastic Bag Ban

(File photograph.)

A plastic bag ban in Haverhill was approved Tuesday by City Councilors 8-1. (File photograph)

Despite opposition from City Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua in an effort to advocate for seniors and families on the go, Haverhill’s City Council voted to enact a plastic bag ban after six months of debate.

Tuesday’s Council meeting saw Bevilacqua describe at length an impromptu focus group he conducted at several Market Basket locations. Citing online research and conversations with shoppers, Bevilacqua argued that paper and reusable bags contribute to the spread of salmonella and present hardship for disadvantaged and elderly residents who cannot afford reusable bags.

He argued that city shoppers prioritize plastic over paper for convenience.

“In every one of the lines I stood in, not one person asked for a reusable or paper bag. They all took plastic,” Bevilacqua said. “I watched them carry their products out, and they could carry them out because (the bags) were safe and convenient. I spent three days watching people come into Market Basket and I only saw one out of hundreds carrying a reusable bag.”

In his statement of support, Councilor Colin F. LePage countered that 30 percent of Market Basket locations in Massachusetts are in communities where a ban is enacted. Other councilors, including William J. Macek, reasoned that the ordinance is subject to change as the city adapts to the new normal.

As drafted by City Solicitor William Cox Jr., the ordinance pertains to single-use, non-recyclable plastic bags. Certain bags, including laundry and dry cleaner bags, newspaper wraps, and frozen foods, meat or fish bags would be exempted from the ban. Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, an early advocate for a ban, succeeded in having the term “biodegradable” stricken from the final draft.

O’Brien applauded her colleagues in making the first—albeit difficult—step to go green.

“It’s always hardest when you have to make that first step, but we did it with recycling and we can do it with this. And next, I’m going after straws and stirrers! What’s wrong with a paper straw and a wooden stirrer? Let’s go retro!” O’Brien said in jest.

Supporter Melinda E. Barrett said residents—herself included—will eventually adjust.

“I think it will be an adjustment for some people. I don’t think it’s an overwhelming adjustment—I use those bags as trash—but I can use them for something else. It’s not the be-all, end-all,” Barrett reasoned. “It just takes a change of habit and it’s the right thing to do.”

The ban will be rolled out across the city over a nine-month period, based on the size of a store or retail establishment.