At its Fall 2019 Town Meeting, the residents of Essex successful passed a bylaw banning the use of certain plastics by commercial establishments in town that would become effective in early 2021.

The article was introduced by Selectman Peter Phippin, who said there isn’t a single piece of plastic created that doesn’t still exist somewhere in the world.  Plastic never goes away, he said.  It just gets broken down in ever smaller and smaller pieces, becoming micro-plastics that end up in our drinking water, in our fish.  It’s everywhere.  Banning single-use, non- and non-compostable plastics at restaurants (to-go containers, plastic utensils and straws, “stirrers,” hot-stoppers, single-use plastic bags, and the like) is a step in the right direction for addressing the burden on landfills, injury and death to marine animals, public trash and, of course, our carbon footprint.

The bylaw language was architected with the help of Seaside Sustainability, the local non-profit group started in 2017 by Eric Magers.  The group offers education and advocacy, and works with other communities like Beverly, Gloucester and Rockport on sustainability initiatives.  Last week Seaside Sustainability distributed information and FAQs on Article 7 in person to all local businesses in Essex.

The move to ban single use plastics has been well underway on the North Shore.  Rockport, Gloucester, Ipswich, Hamilton and, last Spring, Manchester have all passed similar measures locally.  Magers said Rockport’s plastics ban is among the most rigorous in the country. 

Typically, by the time these proposed bylaws come to the fore, local restaurants have already swapped out non-biodegradable single-use products in their businesses for better options like bamboo, paper or cellulose because their customers are increasingly requesting them.

“It’s time,” said Phippin.

Most in the room agreed, and opposition came from only two residents.  The first said he wasn’t against it in principal, but he didn’t believe it was the Town of Essex’s job to regulate behavior and personal options.  The article amounted to something from a “nanny state” and as far as he was concerned, that’s not Essex.  The other resident protested there hadn’t been enough notice given to businesses that would be impacted.  Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki said there had been both notice and discussion with local businesses, via the well-attended Chamber of Commerce Essex

Division last month and via communication with the Essex Merchants Association. 

Some at the meeting didn’t feel the measure went far enough.  One resident proposed an amendment giving the bylaw teeth at retail, but that wasn’t supported as it was seen as going too far (it would have impacted sale of everyday items such as trash bags).  Another said the date should be moved up, but Phippen said the BOS had concluded after listening to businesses that a year’s time was reasonable to allow them to prepare and move through existing stocks of their soon-to-be-non-compliant materials.

Article 7 then passed easily. 

The new regulations will be managed by the Essex Board of Health and will take effect January 2021.