Portsmouth grocery store: We support ban on single-use bags

Clements' would prefer a statewide prohibition, however

EastBayRI.com ·

PORTSMOUTH — Michael Leverett, store manager of Clements’ Marketplace, wanted to make something perfectly clear during a workshop Thursday night on a potential ban on single-use plastic bags in Portsmouth.

Some of the store’s customers, he said, have the perception that Clements’ is opposed to the ban. That’s not true, Mr. Leverett said.

“We support a ban on all single-use items at the register. That’s plastic bags, paper bags — anything that can be navigated to a reusable item,” he said.

However, the store would rather see the bag ban be implemented at the state level, rather than on a town-by-town basis, he said.

Only a dozen people attended the workshop that was facilitated by Rich Talipsky, the town’s director of business development, to generate some feedback on a possible ban on single-use bags.

The town has also implemented a survey to get residents’ input, with responses due by Nov. 15. The survey can be taken online, and hard copies are also available at Town Hall and at Clements’. Informational material is also available on the town website.

“We have just under 600 respondents so far, which is a pretty healthy response rate,” Mr. Talipsky said of the survey.

Most of the people who turned out Thursday night were supporters of the plastic bag ban, including Dave McLaughlin, executive director of Clean Ocean Access (COA), which has been pushing for and island-wide ban. Newport and Middletown recently approved bans on single-use bags, which went into effect Nov. 1.

One of the speakers was Chris Reeves, a member of the Conservation Commission with a background in environmental journalism and marine biology. A proponent of reusable bags, he detailed the harmful effects that plastic has on the environment, particularly ocean life. 

Mr. Reeves said recycling plastic “does not work.” Plastic bags can’t be recycled to make more bags, he said, and turning them into products such as Trex Decking isn’t the answer either.

“When that stuff ends its life cycle, it just goes into the landfill because there’s nothing you can make for another use after that,” he said.

Certain types of plastic end up getting burned, sending toxic chemicals in the air, while other plastics get into the ocean, are ingested by fish and transferred to their fatty tissue. “We get that back when we eat fish from the ocean,” Mr. Reeves said.

Paper bags are not a good alternative, he said, because they require more water to produce, consumer more energy to transport and contribute to deforestation. 

The answer is switching to reusable bags in stores such as Clements’, he said. Some people may not like it at first, he said, but they’ll soon get into the habit.

“We’re talking about implementing a behavioral change,” Mr. Reeves said. “In the communities that have gotten rid of plastic bags, people just adjust. It’s no big deal.” 

Jamie Rhodes, program director of Upstream Policy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, agreed. 

“We can’t bag-ban our way out of this … it’s not going to stop plastic from getting into the ocean,” said Mr. Rhodes. However, a ban on single-use bags is a good start, he said.

Clements’ position

Mr. Leverett, who’s also the president of the Portsmouth Business Association, said Clements’ Marketplace fully supports the idea of going with reusable bags. The store, after all, sells them for a nominal fee and offers free replacements for old, worn-out bags, he said.

“My plan is to get as many reusable bags in our customers’ hands as possible,” Mr. Leverett said.

He also said the store works hard to be environmentally friendly, by participating in beach cleanups with COA, giving its food waste to a local pig farmer, baling cardboard, recycling paper and more.

“It’s helped us reduce our waste into the landfill,” he said.

The only concern the store has, he said, is how a bag ban would be enforced. Prohibiting single-use bags should be done at the state level, rather than town by town, he said. Businesses in Massachusetts, he pointed out, have struggled with regulations over bag bans because the rules vary by municipality.

Mr. Leverett also said while he wants to help educate consumers on the importance of reusable bags, many of the store’s patrons are set in their ways. The store recently swapped plastic containers for paper ones at a prepared food station, but switched back after many customers complained, he said. 

“We often find ourselves in the middle,” he said.

Barbara Reaper, a Clements’ customer who supports COA, said a tougher stance would help change shoppers’ bad habits.

“If you coddled my addiction, I would never quit,” she told Mr. Leverett.

‘In the vice jaws’

Mr. Talipsky said he sympathized with Clements’ plight.

“Unfortunately, the businesses are in the vice jaws and sometimes they come out as a bad guys,” he said.

Ms. Reaper said Portsmouth “would look better as stewards of education, rather than the bad guy.” Newport and Middletown, she said, view the town as they one “that needs to come together” on the single-use bag ban.

Mr. Leverett agreed. “We want to be good citizens, too,” he said.

Susan Panaggio of Portsmouth, who has volunteered on beach cleanups with COA, said she doesn’t even understand how we got to this point. 

“When I was a little girl, there were no plastic bags,” she said.

That changed about 15 to 20 years ago, said Ms. Panaggio, when she started seeing all the plastic junk on shorelines.

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