plastic bag

Foxboro selectmen are being asked to look at banning single-use plastic bags locally.

Judging from green initiatives enacted in neighboring communities, restrictions on single-use carryout plastic shopping bags in Foxboro are a no-brainer, selectmen were told last week.

According to Neil Rhein, a Mansfield selectman who founded and serves as executive director of Keep Massachusetts Beautiful, single-use plastic bags are the third most-common form of roadside litter behind plastic bottle caps and cigarette butts.

Rhein, who helped organize the citizen’s petition drive resulting in Mansfield’s bag ban, noted that Canton, Attleboro, Plainville and Sharon have either implemented, or are in the process of implementing, similar ordinances.

Ideally, Foxboro would be next on the list, he said.

“Last I checked, everyone in Mansfield is still buying groceries and surviving,” Rhein observed.

Given his familiarity with the subject matter, Rhein was a logical choice to brief Foxboro selectmen on how best to pursue a local bag ordinance. The issue had been raised last March, when Selectman Chris Mitchell publicly pledged to pursue local restrictions after receiving a letter urging the town to adopt such a ban.

Noting that municipal ordinances currently reflect a patchwork of different point-of-purchase packaging requirements, Rhein explained that Mansfield has banned single-use plastic bags, with retailers providing paper bags for free.

In other communities, paper bags (containing at least 40 percent recycled content) are available, but cost consumers 10 cents apiece.

Mansfield’s ban also allowed retailers a 6- to 12-month grace period to exhaust existing inventories of plastic bags.

“The laws vary from town to town,” he said, adding that uniform standards adopted through state legislation would be preferable.

Rhein said a proposed bill is currently pending on Beacon Hill, but is unlikely to pass in the 2019 legislative session.

Referring to the “paper vs. plastic” debate, Rhein acknowledged that paper bags — which require large amounts of water to manufacture — are not the perfect solution. But he nonetheless characterized paper bags, which are biodegradable, as the lesser of two evils.

In addition to contributing to roadside litter, Rhein identified single-use bags as one of the most significant contaminants to curbside recycling efforts.

“A lot of people think they are recyclable and just toss them in the bin,” he said.

Technically, “single-use” plastic bags can be recycled, typically into new bags or other products like composite lumber, but require a specialized process unavailable to most recycling centers in the U.S.