SEATTLE (Scrap Monster): The long-awaited legislation banning most retailers in Easton from distributing single-use plastic bags to customers is officially in effect.
The ordinance, which the Easton Town Council unanimously passed in September, prohibits retailers in the town from providing customers with plastic bags to minimize environmental impacts, along with reducing production and disposal costs.
Council members were emphatic in their support for the ordinance in September, commenting on the legislation’s positive effect on reducing Easton’s plastic consumption to improve the community and nearby waterways.
Several exceptions were made in the ordinance for certain items, including:
fresh fish, meat and poultry products;
otherwise unpackaged fruits, nuts or vegetables;
otherwise unpackaged confectionery, fresh cheese, baked goods;
food and goods from farmers’ markets;
prescription drugs from pharmacies;
dry-cleaned or laundered items;
packages of multiple bags intended for disposing garbage, food waste, pet waste or yard waste;
plant material, flowers or potted plants to prevent spoilage and moisture damage to other purchases;
live creatures including fish, insects, mollusks or crustaceans from a store normally selling such items;
freshly prepared hot or cold food, including sliced deli and foods prepared to order.
Many chain retail establishments within Easton were still providing customers with single-use plastic bags on Friday, just two days before the ban went into effect. However, the stores and employees were preparing for the change ahead.
A sign posted at the entrance to the Target in Easton on Friday alerted customers that plastic bags would no longer be offered starting Sunday, but the store will offer paper bags for a 10-cent fee per bag.
That 10-cent fee, which applies to all retailers offering paper bags in Easton, is paid for by the customer and retained by the store. Sales receipts will reflect the number of paper bags provided to customers and the fees collected for the bags, according to the ordinance.
Target also incentivized shoppers to bring their own reusable bags by offering a five-cent discount per bag used on their purchases — a policy that’s been in effect since before the town’s plastic bag ban came about, according to a store employee.
Harris Teeter cashier Linda Morgan said she was glad the grocery store would be transitioning to paper bags, noting that plastic bags the store had been offering were difficult to open and tore easily.
From an employee perspective, Morgan said customers bringing their own bags could be a potential slowdown at checkout. Some reusable bags customers bring don’t stand up on their own, making loading them more difficult, she said.
Morgan also said customers had complained about having to remember bringing their own reusable bags to avoid the 10-cent fee, but added that the small fee incentivizes customers to bring their own bags.
Some stores in Easton have been providing paper bags for customers since before the new legislation, so the new ban doesn’t cause a significant impact.
Piazza Italian Market, which offers a dine-in menu and carryout meals, along with a grocery selection, has been using paper bags since its start, said owner and manager Emily Chandler. On Friday, customers saw the store featuring town-branded flyers spreading awareness of Easton’s impending ban, along with Piazza-branded reusable tote bags for sale.
The Mercantile in Easton, a women’s lifestyle boutique, has also always used paper bags, according to owner Joan Hoge-North.
“I believe in not using plastic bags,” she said.
In that spirit, Hoge-North keeps a “decline a bag jar” on the checkout counter at the back of her store and deposits a quarter into the jar every time a customer declines a bag. She donates the change to Eastern Shore land conservation organizations twice a year. Since she started the jar, she’s counted at least 700 bags not used.
However, Hoge-North lamented now having to charge her customers for paper bags under the new ordinance, despite having always offered them.
All retail establishments offering paper bags to customers are required to impose the 10-cent fee, even if they’ve previously provided the bags without a fee, according to the Town of Easton.
Stores that violate the ordinance, whether through providing single-use plastic bags or not charging for paper bags, are guilty of a municipal infraction. Written warnings are issued for the first violation, followed by a $25 fine for the second and a $50 fine for any subsequent violations.
Hoge-North said the ordinance could be tricky for visitors to the town, many of whom don’t bring reusable bags with them when traveling and will have to pay the small fee for paper bags.
La De Da, a clothing boutique on North Harrison Street, switched to providing paper bags well before the plastic bag ban was approved and enacted, said co-owner Diane Towers.
Members of Plastic-Free Easton, the citizens’ group that advocated fiercely for the ban, had approached the store last summer, Towers said. She said the store phased out their plastic bags far ahead of the April 2 effective date, figuring they’d “get on board.”
Towers acknowledged the higher cost of the switchover, saying that paper bags cost a “tremendous amount” more than plastic bags.
Like several other downtown stores, Trade Whims, an upscale gift and clothing boutique, has always used paper bags for customers, said employee Christy Bartlett. However, Bartlett said she loves the new plastic bag ban and wishes it had happened sooner.
“It’s a good thing,” she said, but also noted that “change is hard.”
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