Foregoing Plastic: A Forum on Belmont Bag Ban Tuesday March 27

Photo: Plastic bags on the way out in Belmont? One group hopes so.

The Belmont Bag Ban Group, an ad-hoc group advocating for the ban single-use plastic bags at the check-out lines, is holding a forum to hear details of the proposed bylaw, and ask questions on Tuesday, March 27 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Assembly Room of the Belmont Public Library. Speakers will include Belmont organizers as well as environmental activists. Citizens are welcome to attend.

The proposed ban will be before the annual Town Meeting in May after the Belmont Board of Selectmen’s unanimous vote in March to place an article on the Town Meeting warrant prohibiting single-use plastic bags at stores.

The Belmont Bag Ban Group is hoping Belmont will join the 61 towns and cities in the Commonwealth and hundreds across the country and world that approved similar bans. One of the campaigners, Terese Hammerle, is excited that Belmont is poised to be part of a growing list of districts moving towards a more environmentally sustainable future.

“Simple alternatives such as reusable shopping bags and biodegradable single-use shopping bags are available everywhere and The Belmont Bag Group is working to ensure that anyone who needs reusable bags has access to them,” Hammerle says. Paper bags, which biodegrade naturally, will still be available at no cost to the customer, Hammerle notes.

“Several stores in Belmont are already prepared because they operate in communities in which a plastic bag ban is in effect,” she states.

One trillion single-use plastic bags are used worldwide each year, harming wildlife and littering our environment, making up the third largest type of litter from land-based sources found on U.S. coasts. While plastic bags are convenient and cheap, the Sierra Club cautions the environmental expense far exceeds the cost retailers pay to provide them. The flimsy material harms wildlife as they are often mistaken for food in our waterways and are sometimes used as nesting materials.

“Take a walk around town and see the bags caught in tree branches and trapped on sewer grates; they are so aerodynamic that even when properly disposed of, they blow away,” says organizer Mark Carthy. “And it takes estimated 200-plus years for plastic to photodegrade.”

“The forum will provide a good opportunity to hear from our community and provide educational materials. We’ll also have a number of items to a raffle that encourages sustainability,” adds Linda Levin-Scherz, another organizer.

Residents are encouraged to bring extra lifetime bags that the Bag Ban Group will launder and distribute to those who might find purchasing a bag a burden.

If you would like more information please contact: Terese Hammerle at

Plastic Bag Ban Set For May Town Meeting Vote

Photo: “Plastic or paper?” could become “Paper?”

The ubiquitous single-use plastic bag could soon be a memory in the Town of Homes as the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved on Monday, Feb. 26 sponsoring an article before the annual Town Meeting in May banning town retailers from providing the quintessential receptacle to their customers.

If passed by Town Meeting, the bylaw will take effect six months after the vote or on Nov. 1, 2018, whichever is later and would initially apply to stores with more than 30,000 square feet of retail space. Carthy said it would likely first impact the Star Market on Trapelo Road. The remainder of stores will have until nine months after Town Meeting approval or Feb. 1, 2019, to make the change.

The selectmen’s unanimous vote supports the initiative from the 15 resident group that formed in November seeking to end Belmont merchants use of the thin bags to check the harm it does to the environment – plastic bags harm animals and sea life that eat or are entangled by them – while also clogging storm drains and burdening solid waste disposal and recycling facilities. 

“The thin-film plastic bags are incredibly cheap so there is little incentive for merchants to make a change,” said the group’s spokesperson Mark Carthy of Stone Road and a Precinct 6 Town meeting member.

Carthy said the group submitted a Citizen’s Petition that was certified by the Town Clerk on Monday as a backup plan if the Selectmen had not accepted their proposal. 

“We are very pleased with [the selectmen’s] vote as it will make it an easier process under their guidance,” said Carthy.

Under the new bylaw, retailers will have two choices for customers; recyclables paper and reusable check-out bags made of natural fibers (cotton or linen), with stitched panels and can carry 25 pounds for more than 300 feet. The Belmont ban would include all plastic bags including the heavier, sturdy plastic examples which towns have allowed – an example is bags used by Russo’s in Watertown. Exceptions will include plastic bags without handles such as those covering or containing dry cleaning, newspapers, produce and meats, and bulk or wet foods.

For retailers who violate the ban, a written warning will come with the first offense. A second violation will be accompanied by a $50 fine and any further offense a $200 fine will be imposed and the fines will be cumulative and each day a violation occurs will constitute a separate offense.

Belmont is following the lead of more than 60 municipalities around the state which have installed bans in the past five years. Neighboring Cambridge has banned most plastic bags and charge a fee for paper bags since 2015 while Arlington’s ban on single-use plastic bags goes into effect on March 1 for retailers over 10,000 square feet and on July 1 for all other retailers. 

Belmont will not be able to impose a fee for bags as Cambridge does since state law prohibits towns from imposing a surtax on bags but does allow cities, said Carthy.

While popular in Massachusetts, bag bans have been less than accepted elsewhere. State legislatures in South Carolina, Utah, Arizona and Florida have voted to prohibit municipalities from banning carry-out bags. 

While the selectmen and Board of Health, which the bag ban group visited Monday evening, support the proposal, each noted a concern the bylaw’s enforcement powers which are ceded to the Belmont Health Department, will place an additional burden on its small staff. Health Board member Dr. David Alper told the group executing the laws compliance rules “will not be high on our things to enforce.”

Alper advised the group to reach out to the Department of Public Works and Mary Beth Calnan, the town’s part-time Recycling Coordinator, which would “give you a better bang for the buck” as “they can educate the stores and be punitive” when needed.