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Guest Column: Time for Pittsfield to Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags
By Rinaldo Del Gallo III, Guest Column
02:01PM / Wednesday, May 10, 2017
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The city of Pittsfield banned Styrofoam on Oct. 13, 2015, the result of a multi-year effort that began with a petition I filed on Dec. 6, 2012. Pittsfield followed Great Barrington to become the second Berkshire community to ban Styrofoam, as Great Barrington passed a ban 20 years earlier.

When my petition to ban Styrofoam first went before the Ordinance and Rules subcommittee of the Pittsfield City Council it lost by a 3-2 vote with a recommendation to file. It took a good deal of jockeying by Councilor Jonathon Lothrop to get it back to the full Council for a vote. I asked Councilor Lisa Tully to amend the ordinance, which she did, dropping the requirement that paper cups be made of recycled content. The Styrofoam ban passed, even though there were still three city councilors who wanted additional study after nearly three years.

In May of 2013, six months after I filed the petition to ban Styrofoam, I filed another petition to ban single-use plastic bags in Pittsfield, just after Great Barrington had done so. That was four long years ago, and I understood there was considerable pressure to reject the ordinance. I was told by a source on the Green Commission that it was not likely to pass.

I formed a small ad hoc group Berkshire Green, and in 2015, we undertook an effort to get citizens petitions on town meeting warrants in Lenox, Lee, Adams, and Dalton. Apart from its primary purpose of passing bans in Berkshire County, its secondary purpose was to show Pittsfield that such a ban was reasonable.

I worked with Brad Verter, who was heading up the efforts in Williamstown, and thanks to his efforts, on May 19, 2015, Williamstown banned both single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam bags. In Adams, Lee, Lenox, and Dalton, my petitions were tabled for the following year in 2016. They were met with some initial hostility, so much so that in Lee and Dalton I was not allowed to speak.

But good things were in store for these tabled petitions. Peter Hoffman in Lee took the reins with the recycling committee. When our article to ban single-use plastic bags was put to a vote in 2016 at the town meeting, it won 29-17. When the ban on Styrofoam containers went to a vote, it won unanimously. Then, thanks to the work of Eric Federer of Lenox and the environmental committee, a ban on Styrofoam and single-use plastic bags was passed by the Board of Health in Lenox in June 2016. It takes effect this June.

With Williamstown, Lee and Lenox banning Styrofoam and single-use plastic bags, Adams was next. And this is where the story becomes outright amazing. Moderator Edward Driscoll and Adams Select Board Chairman Jeffrey Snoonian decided to focus on the ban of single-use plastic bags for the 2016 town meeting. Of the 101 town meeting members who attended, every single one voted for the ban on single-use plastic bags! Enthusiasm was so strong, one person complained that the ban on Styrofoam was not also on the town warrant and was deferred a year. I suspect that will pass this year. And now, thanks to the worker of Hoffman, Federer, and Tri-Town Health Department Director James Wilusz, Stockbridge banned single-use plastic bags April 27.

On March 20 of this year, the Pittsfield Green Commission unanimously endorsed my petition to ban single-use plastic bags. It marks the end of a four year effort. The Pittsfield Green Commission did a great job with a proposed ordinance that used a little bit of my ordinance and is a thoughtful hodgepodge of language from other communities. But if it passes the City Council, Pittsfield will not be the second community in Berkshire County to ban single-use plastic bags, it will be the seventh. Four years of study later, it is time to end the paralysis of analysis and protect tourism and the environment.

Rinaldo Del Gallo III is a local attorney and environmentalist. To read a detailed history, go to BerkshireGreen.wordpress.com.

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