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Attleboro Considering Comprehensive Environmental Bill To Curb Plastic And Other Pollutants

The mayor of Attleboro is filing an omnibus-style environmental policy with the goal of curbing plastic use and other pollutants in the city.

The “Environmental Protection and Prevention” ordinance would ban the sale of eight different products: Disposable Styrofoam food containers; plastic food containers; plastic straws; single-use plastic water bottles; plastic shot bottles (commonly referred to as nips); plastic microbeads like those found in some facewash and body wash products; compact florescent lightbulbs containing mercury; and neonicotinoids, a type of pesticide considered dangerous to bees that the federal EPA proposed banning earlier this year. The ordinance would also ban the intentional release of balloons and the leaving of balloon remnants in public spaces.

“We need to take better care of our environment,” said Mayor Paul Heroux. “Styrofoam and plastic … the production of these products use petrochemicals, petroleum. That’s bad for the environment at the front end of production. But then the disposal of it is also not good for the environment, because a lot of times these things are discarded, littered."

"We see that everywhere they fill up landfills, and there are environmental alternatives that are sustainable," he added.

Under the proposal, the bans would take effect on January 1, 2021, with the exception of the single-use plastic straw regulation, which would take effect immediately. Each restriction would be enforced by the city, with retailers who violate the bans subject to varying fines.

If passed, Heroux’s proposal would be the first local ordinance in the state to tackle pollution streams at this scale with a single policy. Each of the pollutants named in the proposal has been banned individually in other communities in Massachusetts — Chelsea banned “nips” in 2018, and Somerville has eliminated both plastic straws and Styrofoam containers — but none have banned so many polluting materials at once.

Heroux said that was part of the strategy.

“I took as many of those things as I could and put them all together in one comprehensive, sort of omnibus ordinance proposal,” he said, “so these things will all pass constitutional muster … that makes it easier for my city council to digest these things and say ‘ok, you know if it’s been done elsewhere, maybe we can try it here as well.’”

Heroux said any specific bans that do not make it through the city council’s review process will be returned to the council in a new proposal at a later date.

Attleboro is not new to banning the retail sale of a product in order to curb pollution. In 2019 the city banned single-use plastic bags, and as of February 2020, Attleboro is one of 139 cities in Massachusetts to enact that ban, according to the Sierra Club. A statewide ban has languished in the state legislature, and many Mass. communities temporarily reversed their bans when the coronavirus pandemic flared up due to concerns over reusable bags.

Massachusetts State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, who introduced a bill to reduce plastic bag pollution last year, said the comprehensive bill in Attleboro would be an important step toward eliminating pollutants that can harm not only the environment, but also the state's marine life.

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"Eliminating plastic bags is a good first measure ... However, according to the World Economic Forum, by 2050 there is expected to be more plastics of all kinds in the ocean by weight than fish, so more must be done," Ehrlich said. "I applaud the Attleboro Mayor's effort and vision."

Heroux will file his ordinance with the city council on Tuesday. It will then be assigned to a committee for review, before being brought up for public debate.

This article was originally published on September 08, 2020.

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