Revisions were made recently to a proposed law that would ban single-use plastic bags in the city of Northampton. First, the Northampton Youth Commission was officially added as a sponsor alongside Council Members Jessie Adams and Paul Spector.

“We did this because they [The Northampton Youth Commission] have a particular interest in it and have become very supportive of it [the ban],” said Councilor Adams in an interview on Friday.

Councilor Paul Spector added that the youth commission was a strong proponent of the styrofoam ban proposal, and did much of the research into how these environmental hazards were being used around town. However, that portion of the proposal has since been struck due to vociferous concerns of local businesses: alternatives are considered too expensive.

The council also voted to raise the minimum thickness permissible in a plastic bag from 1.5 mils to 3 mils. “The thicker bags tend to be reused,” said Councilor Adams, “the very thin ones have very low rates of recycling.”

Usually considered a leader in the green movement, Northampton does have a reputation to uphold.  “This is not very radical anymore,” said Councilor Spector, “ Other communities that are more conservative are considering this ban.”  And indeed, action is being taken within the community already. Volunteers garner support by sewing cloth bags and donating them to local businesses through The BagShare Project, and some businesses have independently chosen to switch to paper bags, or, in the case of Serios Market, are going bag-free.

Concerns have been raised by reluctant big businesses, and the Health Department which voiced concerns about the burden of enforcing the ordinance. In response, Councilor Spector says that “Ultimately, it’s up to the mayor to decide who enforces the ban.” He predicts that enforcement may become complaint-based, fueled by citizens who witness infringements.

But the real purpose of this ordinance, according to Councilor Adams, is to encourage people to bring their own cloth bags when shopping, and encourage the formation of environmentally sustainable habits.

“This is not very radical anymore,” said Councilor Spector, “ Other communities that are more conservative are considering this ban.”

The formation of habits starts young. In 2011, the local high school and elementary school collaborated on the construction of a giant ball of plastic bags, over 18,000 bags in total. Although the final product did not break the world record, it brought together students and parents in one shared purpose. So, where has this big un-biodegradable mass been living for the past four years?

Plastic Bag Ball

A giant ball made of over 18,000 plastic bags in total. Photo courtesy of Bill Dwight.

“It was just sitting in the back corner of somebody’s garage,” said Council President Bill Dwight. And there it sat until Wednesday, April 8th, when Dwight used his pickup truck to transport it to the front of the Municipal Offices. There, it briefly served as a visual aid for the voluminous impact of plastic bag consumption, and caused some commotion with the police (who were uninformed about the impending exhibit), before the ball was dismantled.

The display may have been short-lived, but one has to admire this ingenuity and use of existing resources— which is, of course, the whole point.

Similar ingenuity is displayed in the Councilors’ handling of concerns regarding the ban. The changes made on Friday are just the most recent of a litany of revisions made to the proposal. There has been very little overall opposition, says Councilor Spector, and concerns have been duly addressed.

“And it’s organic,” he adds, “If a year from now there is something that needs to be changed, or something that could make it stronger, there will be an amendment.”

Photo: "Recycle This Bag" by Willow DeLyon