Andover became one of approximately 70 Massachusetts communities to ban plastic bags last week. Voters passed a plastic bag ban on May 2 at Annual Town Meeting.
The ban will prohibit the use of thin-film plastic bags in food establishments in town after January 2019. Establishments affected by the ban will include grocery stores, convenience stores, liquor stores, and restaurants.
"Each year 100 billion thin film plastic bags are distributed in the United States alone," said David Bunting, one of three residents who submitted the article for Town Meeting voters to consider. "These bags are used for an average of 12 minutes per bag. They are made from a toxic material that can last hundreds of years."
"Where is all this plastic going?" Bunting asked the crowd. "It's going everywhere. Our culture of personal convenience does have a cost. Plastic bags are a global problem. Plastic bags are a local problem."
Bunting shared photos of plastic bag piles from across the globe as well as plastic bag litter in Andover. He explained how plastic bags break down into tiny, microscopic plastic pieces that are going into water resources and being eaten by fish and other animals.
Bunting and the two women who helped submit the article, Amy Smith and Selen Aktar, also provided residents with a series of solutions to popular concerns about the ban. They suggested those who use thin film plastic bags from grocery stores to line their bathroom trash cans or to pick up after their dogs use other plastic bags already present in their daily lives like clear-plastic bread loaf bags.
They stated that a plastic bag ban would save local businesses money if people brought their own bags, and that those worried about their freedom to choose plastic being infringed upon should remember other laws, such as speed limits, exist for the public good just as the plastic ban would.
"I believe it will reduce plastic bag litter in our town," said Melanie Cutler of 180 Main St., an environmental science teacher at Andover High. "I have been using reusable shopping bags for the past 20 years. I calculated over the past 20 years I have avoided about 10,000 paper or plastic bags. Imagine if everyone in Andover made the switch to using our own bags."
Sean Smith of 115 Lovejoy Road said he sees plastic bags while hiking and kayaking around town, and would like to see the town take the initiative to cut back on plastic bag use. Smith also told voters he had worked in environmental science for years and had a background in ecology.
"When I am hiking and kayaking on the Shawsheen River, the plastic I see in our beaver dams and on the banks of the river, those are the good pieces of plastic," Smith said. "Because I can pick them up. What I am really concerned about is the stuff I can't see. They are breaking down. We have all sorts of things eating it, and guess who eats that? We do. I see the plastics all around and we need to reduce it."
Not everyone believed that the article was the best option for the environment, however.
Keith Saxon of 15 Wethersfield Drive argued that studies showed a ban on plastic bags could actually negatively affect the environment. He also stated that in Austin, Texas, where plastic bags were first banned, the city found they did not end up using less plastic because people did not reuse the heavier reusable bags.
Under the ban, grocery stores will be required to offer paper bags, cardboard boxes, or reusable bags to customers.
Follow Kelsey Bode on Twitter @Kelsey_Bode.