Haverhill Lifts Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban After Gov. Baker Bans Reusable Shopping Bags

(File photograph.)

A Haverhill City Council debate Tuesday night over whether the city’s single-use plastic bag ban should be lifted to curb the spread of COVID-19 became moot today after Gov. Charlie Baker ordered a ban on reusable bags.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini, claiming emergency powers, lifted the bag ban this afternoon until the coronavirus crisis is over. In a statement, the mayor’s office said, “reusable shopping bags, typically made of cloth or a similar material, … are believed to hold bacteria and possible viruses.” The statement said a Board of Health meeting, planned for tomorrow to consider the issue, has been cancelled.

Haverhill city councilors sought the Health Board opinion last night.

The potential danger of spreading COVID-19 by using reusable bags brought extensive debate during Tuesday night’s meeting. Some have questioned whether such bags are being properly cleaned between uses.

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua, who has steadfastly opposed the plastic bag ban and was unsuccessful in delaying its implementation a year ago, broached the subject, pointing out that some cities and states have banned the use of reusable bags while there is still a COVID-19 threat.

“The state of New Hampshire has now banned the reusable bags. Cambridge has now banned reusable bags at stores in the city to protect store workers. The Massachusetts Food Association has issued a call to lift plastic bag bans to protect workers and customers alike,” he said.

Bevilacqua proposed temporarily lifting the prohibition.

Other councilors said a return to plastic bags wasn’t necessarily called for since Market Basket and other stores provide paper bags for customers. Councilor Michael S. McGonagle—who originally advocated for the ban—opposed the measure because, he said, those so-called single-use plastic bags aren’t always disposed of after one use.

“The problem with disposable bags or single-use bags is people don’t use them one time. They put them in a closet. They use them again. If the virus lives on these, then they have a chance of having contamination stay around their house, I think someone said nine days,” he said.

Ultimately, the Council concluded more information is necessary before reacting. They agreed to have Fiorentini quiz the Health Department for its opinion and report back at next week’s meeting.

Bevilacqua went on social media this afternoon, taking a jab at his colleagues. “Council Wouldn’t Ban Reusable Bag to Stop Virus Spread BUT Gov.Baker Did! Shouldn't HAV Residents come first Not Petty Politics!” In a reply, Fiorentini countered partisan remarks, saying “The two people who supported banning reusable bags, Joe Bevilacqua and myself, are both Democrats.”

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