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Plastic Checkout Bag Bylaw

1. Findings and Purpose

1.1 Single-use plastic bags are an environmental nuisance; adversely affect public health; are a detriment to tourism; and impair the overall quality of life of the Town’s residents and visitors.

  • Because plastic bags are lightweight, they easily become airborne even when properly disposed of, littering beaches, roadsides and sidewalks.  They clog storm drainage systems, contribute to marine and terrestrial pollution, and detract from the natural beauty of the Town for visitors and residents alike.
  • Plastic bags photo-degrade, disintegrating into minute particles which adsorb toxins and pose a threat to riparian and marine environments, contaminating the food chain, water and soil. They are also a menace to marine life, killing birds, marine mammals, sea turtles and fish each year through ingestion and entanglement.
  • The vast majority of plastic bags are not recycled, and recycling of plastic bags is not available on Martha’s Vineyard.  Their disposal adds to the Town’s waste management expense, both through the cost of transporting waste to off-island landfills and due to their contamination of the single-stream recycling system.

1.2 Single-use plastic bag ordinances have proven to be effective in reducing plastic bag consumption and litter and are part of a growing global movement towards sustainability.

1.3 The Town is committed to protecting the environment and the public health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. The goal of this bylaw is to reduce the common use of plastic checkout bags and to encourage the use of reusable bags by consumers, thereby reducing local land and marine pollution, advancing solid waste reduction, protecting the Town’s unique natural beauty and irreplaceable natural resources, and improving the quality of life for the citizens of the Town.

2. Definitions

Checkout Bag” means a bag with or without handles provided by a Store to a customer at the point of sale that is intended for the purpose of transporting food or merchandise out of the Store.

Plastic Checkout Bag” means a plastic Checkout Bag that is less than 4 mils thick (and, for the avoidance of doubt, includes such plastic bags that are marketed as ‘biodegradable’ or ‘compostable’).

Recyclable Paper Bag” means a paper bag with or without handles that is 100 percent recyclable and contains at least 40% post-consumer recycled content (except that an eight pound or smaller paper bag shall contain a minimum of 20% post-consumer recycled content) and visibly displays both the word "recyclable" and the percentage of post-consumer recycled content.

Reusable Bag” means a bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse and is made of polyester, polypropylene, washable fabric, or other durable material and, in the case of plastic bags, is at least 4.0 mils in thickness.

Store” means any commercial enterprise selling goods, food or services directly to the public, whether for or not for profit, including, but not limited to, convenience and grocery stores, markets, restaurants, pharmacies, liquor stores, take-out food purveyors, and merchandise retailers. 

3. Use Regulations

3.1 No Store in the Town shall provide to any customer a Plastic Checkout Bag.

3.2 If a Store provides Checkout Bags, they may only provide Recyclable Paper Bags or Reusable Bags.

3.3 This bylaw does not apply to the clear or opaque plastic bags without handles provided to a customer:

a. to transport loose produce, prepared food, bulk food, or small unpackaged products (e.g. beads and nails or other small hardware items) to the point of sale; or
b.   to contain or wrap foods to retain moisture or to segregate foods (like meat or ice cream) or other items to prevent contamination or damage when the items are placed together in a Recyclable Paper Bag or Reusable Bag.

3.4 Stores may charge and retain a fee for any Recyclable Paper Bag or Reusable Bag that they provide. The fee could be used to recover the costs of the bag and/or as an incentive to customers to bring their own Reusable Bags. Customers are encouraged to bring their own Reusable Bags when they shop, and Stores may offer a credit to customers who bring their own bags.

4. Administration and Enforcement

4.1 This bylaw may be enforced by the Agent of the Board of Health.

4.2 A person, individually or by his servant or agent, who violates any provision of this bylaw may be penalized by a non-criminal disposition pursuant to G.L. Chapter 40, Section 21D and the Town’s non-criminal disposition bylaw. The following penalties apply:

  • first violation: a written warning.
  • second violation: $50 fine.
  • third and subsequent violations: $100 fine.

Each day the violation continues constitutes a separate violation.

5. Effective Date     This bylaw takes effect on January 1, 2017.

Approved by the Attorney General May 13, 2016

Return to Bylaws listing.