Plastic Bag Ordinance

Learn about the new law: RECYCLABLE AND REUSABLE BAGS IN MELROSE

The Reusable and Recyclable Bag Ordinance defines the type of checkout bags that businesses may provide to customers, with the goal of significantly reducing plastic checkout bags and promoting reusable bags.

Why did Melrose pass this law?

Melrose joins 60 other cities and towns in Massachusetts passed laws to reduce plastic bag pollution.

The purpose of this ordinance is to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags that are being used, discarded, and/or littered and to promote the use of reusable bags and recyclable paper bags in the City of Melrose (the “City”).

Plastic bags create litter, jam recycling equipment when improperly placed in curbside bins, require fossil fuels to manufacture, and contribute to plastic pollution on land and in the water. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade, it breaks down into microparticles over time.  These particles have been found in many species of marine life, in soil, and in 94% of US drinking water sampled. Reusable bags and recycled paper bags are much better solutions for human health and the environment.

The average plastic bag is used for only 12 minutes before it is discarded.  Only 5% of these bags are recycled.  And Americans use an estimated 326 bags per person, every year.  Here in Melrose, we use about 9,000,000 plastic bags every year.

While paper bags also use resources, paper breaks down relatively quickly and does not create the long-term environmental problems caused by plastic pollution.

After a year of education and outreach, the Board of Aldermen passed the law unanimously on December 18, 2018.

To learn more, watch the award-winning movie Bag It, free on MMTV. http://vp.telvue.com/preview?id=T04261&video=299396

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

(hyperlink from list of questions to answers below)

For Residents For Businesses
What does this law mean for me as a customer?
Will I be charged for a bag?
I have saved plastic grocery bags. Can I reuse them when I shop?
How can I help businesses adapt to the new law?
Will Shaw’s and Whole Foods still offer plastic bag recycling bins?
Where can I get a reusable bag?
I use plastic shopping bags for pet waste or garbage bin liners. What should I use instead?
What type of businesses and organizations must comply with the new law?
When does the ordinance take effect?
What types of bags can be provided to customers under the new law?
How do I source bags that comply with the ordinance?
Can customers bring their own plastic checkout bags for reuse?
Aside from checkout bags, are any plastic bags allowed?
What are the penalties for non-compliance?
How will the law be enforced?
How can I encourage customers to use fewer bags?
Who do I contact with questions?

RESIDENTS

What does this law mean for me as a customer?

At checkout, the business can choose to offer you a recyclable paper bag, a reusable bag, or you may bring a reusable bag.

Plastic checkout bags are not allowed under the new law.

Checkout bags must be either a Recyclable Paper Bag or a Reusable Bag.  The specifications of each bag type are defined in the ordinance.

Recyclable Paper Bag A paper bag that:

1.   Is 100% recyclable, including the handles;

2.   Contains at least 40% post-consumer recycled paper content; and

3.   Displays the words “Recyclable” and “made from 40% post-consumer recycled content” (or greater amount) in a visible manner on the outside of the bag.

Reusable Bag A sewn bag with stitched handles that is specifically designed for multiple reuse that meets all four of these criteria:

1.    Can carry 25 pounds;

2.    Is machine washable or is made of a material that can be cleaned or disinfected 125 times;

3.    Is made of either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or other natural fiber material; and

4.    Has a thickness of greater than 4.0 mils.

No plastic checkout bags Plastic checkout bags, regardless of thickness, do not meet the definition of a reusable bag.

Will I be charged for a bag?

The law does not require businesses to charge customers for a bag.

Any business may voluntarily charge customers for a checkout bag (providing it meets the ordinance’s definition of a recyclable or reusable bag). A small fee helps businesses to recover the cost of shopping bags, and can help “nudge” customers to bring their own reusable bag, or only take a shopping bag when it is needed.

I have saved plastic grocery bags. Can I reuse them when I shop?

Of course!  As a customer, you can bring any type of bag that you wish to reuse.  The new law encourages reuse of existing bags of any types.

Remember to properly dispose of your used plastic grocery bags after you finish (re)using them. Do not recycle in your curbside bin; Take plastic grocery bags to the drop-off recycling bins at Shaw’s, Whole Foods, or DPW (72 Tremont St.).

How can I help businesses adapt to the new law?

Remember to bring your own reusable shopping bag.

Decline a checkout bag if you don’t need it. For a small purchase, often a checkout bag is unnecessary and wasted.

Shopping bags can be expensive for businesses. Help support our local businesses by bringing your own bag.

Will Shaw’s and Whole Foods still offer plastic bag recycling bins?

Most likely, yes. The law does not impact a store’s decision to offer plastic bag recycling, such as the bins currently offered by Shaw’s, Whole Foods, and most grocery stores and big-box stores. This recycling service is offered voluntarily by stores.

Where can I get a reusable bag?

Reusable bags are widely available for purchase, and for free.

Free reusable bags are distributed regularly by businesses and organizations at events such as Healthy Melrose, the Victorian Fair, and as customer gifts by many businesses.

The Recycling Committee will provide free reusable bags at future events. Please check our website for future announcements.

Turn a t-shirt into a reusable bag in just a few minutes. {Click here for youtube tutorial}

Many people have extra reusable bags.  Post a request on sites like Freecycle and Buy Nothing to ask other residents to give you their extra bags.

Low-cost reusable bags are available for purchase at most supermarkets, usually at a cost of less than $1.

I use plastic shopping bags for pet waste or garbage bin liners. What should I use instead?

Look around the house and you’ll be surprised at how many plastic bags are still available to you.

Start with the pantry and the refrigerator/freezer. Many foods and household products come in plastic bags. Bread, frozen vegetables, cereals, chips and snacks are just a few examples. Instead of tossing these wrappers in the trash, set them aside for pet waste or to line small garbage bins. Newspaper bags work great, too.

Many products now come wrapped in plastic bags, especially products purchased online.

How should I care for my reusable bags?

Like anything you use multiple times, reusable shopping bags should be cleaned periodically. Many reusable bags are machine washable.  Or, you can sanitize your reusable bags with Lysol, white vinegar, or bleach-wipes. [is there a link with a good consice write up?]

Consider dedicating a reusable bag to always use for meat, to keep your meat separate from produce and other groceries.

BUSINESSES: Key facts and frequently asked questions

What type of businesses and organizations must comply with the new law?

The new law applies to a broad range of businesses and organizations in Melrose.

Specifically the law is applicable to all “Retail Establishments” defined as any person, corporation, partnership, business venture, or vendor that sells or provides merchandise, goods or materials directly to the customer, whether for or not for profit, including, but not limited to, convenience and grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, stores that sell wine, beer or spirits, seasonal and temporary businesses, jewelry stores and household goods stores.

Read the full text of the law here

When does the ordinance take effect?

Effective date for the new ordinance varies by business size.

  • July 1 for retail establishments with an interior finished floor area of more than 8,000 square feet
  • October 1 for retail establishments with an interior finished floor area of 8,000 square feet or less

Please keep these dates in mind when ordering bag stock to avoid investing in non-compliant bags that cannot be distributed in Melrose after the effective date.

What types of bags can be provided to customers under the new law?

The law applies only to checkout bags, defined as a carryout bag provided to a customer at the point of sale.

Checkout bags must be either a Recyclable Paper Bag or a Reusable Bag.  The specifications of each bag type are defined in the ordinance.

Recyclable Paper Bag A paper bag that:

1.     Is 100% recyclable, including the handles;

2.     Contains at least 40% post-consumer recycled paper content; and

3.     Displays the words “Recyclable” and “made from 40% post-consumer recycled content” (or greater amount) in a visible manner on the outside of the bag.

Reusable Bag A sewn bag with stitched handles that is specifically designed for multiple reuse that meets all four of these criteria:

1.     Can carry 25 pounds;

2.     Is machine washable or is made of a material that can be cleaned or disinfected 125 times;

3.     Is made of either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or other natural fiber material; and

4.     Has a thickness of greater than 4.0 mils.

No plastic checkout bags Plastic checkout bags, regardless of thickness, do not meet the definition of a reusable bag.

How do I source bags that comply with the ordinance?

If you’re purchasing paper bags, be sure the bag meets the requirements listed above.

Do not use bags made of plastic (polyethylene or HDPE), even if the bag is thick or marked “reusable”.  Reusable bags must be made of either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or other natural fiber material.

Double check the bags comply with Melrose ordinance.  Show the ordinance (or this webpage) to your distributor to make sure bags comply with our local ordinance.  While many other cities passed similar laws, the laws are not all the same.

Can customers bring their own plastic checkout bags for reuse?

The intent is for the new law, and educational outreach, to encourage customers to bring their own bag or only use a bag when needed.  The law does not restrict the type of bag a customer may bring for reuse.

Aside from checkout bags, are any plastic bags allowed?

Yes, these four categories of bags are allowed under the law:

  • Bags, whether plastic or not, in which loose produce or products are placed by a consumer to deliver such items to the point of sale or checkout area of a retail establishment;
  • Laundry or dry-cleaner bags;
  • Newspaper bags; or
  • Bags used to contain or wrap products, whether prepackaged or not, to prevent or contain moisture.

In keeping with the intent of the law to reduce the negative effects of all plastic bags, we hope that businesses will encourage customers to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging and choose reusable or more sustainable packaging options.

What are the penalties for non-compliance?

The penalties for any violation of this ordinance shall be as follows:

  • First violation: written warning, which will enable the violator to cure such violation within 30 days.
  • Second violation: if, after 30 days, the violation has not been cured, the penalty shall be $25.
  • Third violation and all subsequent violations: $100.

 

In the event any retail establishment continues to violate this ordinance after a third violation, such continuing violation shall constitute a separate offense hereunder resulting in a fine of $100 per day.

How will the law be enforced?

This ordinance shall be enforced by the Health Department, Inspectional Services Department, City Clerk, or any other department having jurisdiction for licensing, inspectional services and code enforcement.

How can I encourage customers to use fewer bags?

Post signs to remind customers to bring their own bag, or only take a bag when needed.

Offer customers an incentive to “BYO” Bag, such as a small discount (5 or 10-cents) per reusable bag.

Train staff to not automatically bag a customer’s purchase, especially when a bag may not be needed.  Instead, ask customers “do you need a bag today?”  When purchases are too quickly placed in a single-use bag, customers don’t have a chance to get out their own bag or decline an unnecessary bag.

Who do I contact with questions?

You may contact Mike Lindstrom in the Office of the Mayor at mlindstrom@cityofmelrose.org, or by phone at 781-979-4440.Ordinance No plastic

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