PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health has a few questions about its enforcement role in the proposed single-use plastic bag ban.
The petition, filed by the Green Commission and local attorney Rinaldo Del Gallo, is before the City Council now. It would place a ban on certain single-use plastic bags — mostly the plastic bags used for groceries at the supermarket. But the enforcement of that falls on the Board of Health, which says it wouldn't be able to do regular inspections.
"There are a lot of other retail establishments in the city. That would place a significant burden on the Health Department if we are to enforce all businesses with this ban," Health Director Gina Armstrong said.
"We would never be able to do it on an inspection basis. We could probably manage it on a complaint basis."
Armstrong has crafted an amendment to the proposal that would outline a complaint process and fining. Using the same process the department uses for nuisance complaints, the department would be able to quickly verify if true and issue the citation. She also hopes to speak to the Green Commission to see if there is another department that could help out with enforcement.
The penalties for companies not following the law is a warning for the first violation, $50 for the second violation, and $100 for subsequent. There is a process for a company to apply for a hardship to extend the time it takes to switch from the current bags to an alternative.
"For now they are proposing that all establishments would switch to other types of alternative bags at checkout. But there are a couple exclusions," Armstrong said.
Armstrong said the thin-filmed plastic bags without handles, like those in the produce aisle at the grocery store or used to cover newspapers, will still be allowed.
The enforcement is the same as the polystyrene ban that the city has already passed, but that was much more limited. It was in regard to takeout foods and there are far fewer of those establishments.
With the polystyrene, only Dunkin' Donuts had applied for an extension, which the city denied. (Dunkin' Donuts in planning to move to paper cups in all its locations by 2020.) Since then there have been few issues and establishments have made the switch. Board of Health member Steve Smith believes the plastic bag ban will be similar.
The ban may add more work for the Health Department at the same time the department is planning for its funding to be cut. The department has been informed to reduce its budget, except for personnel, by 2.5 percent. Armstrong said most of the costs for the department's operations are locked in, leaving few places to pull from.
Last year, Armstrong complied with that request by cutting the line for home demolitions. But the City Council reversed that and level funded that line. Armstrong is expecting to cut that line again to comply with the administration's request this year, too. But she hopes the City Council will do what it did last year and replenish the budget.
The Health Department is also keeping an eye on marijuana regulations. Armstrong said the city is developing zoning laws to guide where the establishments can go. And the Health Department does not have any role in enforcement — that falls on the state.
"Most of those control measures are regulated by the state and don't have to be duplicated by our local regulations," Armstrong said.
However, Armstrong is going to be keeping an eye on the state and local laws being passed to ensure such things as setbacks away from schools and playgrounds remain in the regulations. The city had previously passed massive tobacco regulations keeping retailers away from day cares and schools. Armstrong wants the same to be said for marijuana establishments.
"We'd also like to see what kind of special use permits there are," Armstrong said.
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