HANSON — Voters at Town Meeting Monday, Oct. 7 approved bans of single-use plastic check-out bags and polystyrene food and beverage containers, while passing over a pair of articles aimed at limiting the number of marijuana establishments in town.
The cannabis articles, brought via citizens’ petition will be renewed for the May Town Meeting in order to permit the proposed bylaw amendments to be placed on the Town Election ballot, as was the case with previous marijuana articles.
An article to rescind an October 2018 Town Meeting vote in favor of a revised W-H Regional agreement was unanimously passed without comment.
The plastic and polystyrene articles were passed nearly unanimously by the approximately 165 voters, many of whom brought green-colored re-useable bags distributed to shoppers by Green Hanson at Shaw’s last month. The bags were printed with a checklist reading: “Paper,” “Plastic” and a checkmark next to the word “Neither” and Green Hanson’s logo.
A group of WHRHS students commented in favor of the plastic bag ban and only one resident, who said he depended on the bags to carry his notebook and pens to the library, spoke and voted against it.
The amendment to town general bylaws is aimed at reducing the number of single-use bags in the waste stream and environment.
“It is not banning plastic bags all-out throughout town,” said Selectman Matt Dyer. “It’s banning plastic bags at the point of checkout. This does not remove the option of getting a bag at the point of check-out, and it’s not going to add a tax or anything like that for bags.”
Instead of plastic, paper bags will be available at the point of check-out.
“It’s not just because of the environmental crisis … but also because of our solid waste workers and improving their safety at the plant,” Dyer said of his reason for making the proposal. He said the bags get tangled in the gears at sorting centers in Massachusetts and nationwide, shutting down the machines every half hour. Workers have to climb into confined spaces to clear the bags, armed with a pocket knife.
“This is to keep the cost of recycling down, keep American manufacturing competitive, because otherwise it all gets shipped out to China and other nations,” he said.
Resident John Zucco of Glenwood Place asked if plastic bags used to keep food safe and fresh in the meat and produce departments would be included in the ban. Dyer said bags used at the grocery meat and produce departments, the dry cleaner and the like, will not be affected by the ban.
Green Hanson member Marianne DiMascio of Indian Head Street, said she favored the ban an introduced W-H Environmental Awareness Club students Allysa Small, Sarah Reagan, Nicolette Heath, Riley Getchell, Carly Balfe and Jenna Lacey.
“I’m always happy to hear from our students,” said Moderator Sean Kealy. “You’re always welcome at Town Meeting and I hope that, when you are 18 and you register to vote, that you participate in your town meetings, as well.”
The students spoke of the environmental impact of plastics and the effect of such waste on public health.
“I always think how none of those plastic bags are ever going to decompose in my lifetime, my children’s lifetime, or even very possibly my grandchildren’s lifetime,” said Regan who lives in Whitman, but is concerned about the issue. She noted that plastic bags have only been in existence for about 100 years. “Every single plastic bag that’s been made hasn’t left this planet and hasn’t decomposed.”
Lacey, who lives on Lakeside Road in Hanson, said she used to enjoy walking near the lake in nice weather, but now she does so less and less.
“It’s not because I don’t appreciate the plant life and fresh air, but because other people didn’t,” she said. “Now when I walk through these woods or along that lake, all I see is plastic bags, styrofoam cups and other pieces of trash that don’t belong in my town’s forests.”
Small noted that plastics only break down into microplastics which we eat and breathe in everyday.
But resident George Craig or East Washington Street, noted he depends on the bags to carry his belongings or to clear litter from the roadside.
ZBA member Don Ellis of High Street asked about the penalties for violations, suggesting the article’s wording was not clear. Initial violations bring a written warning. The next subsequent violation described as “the first violation following issuance of a written warning” carries a $50 fine, a second violation would bring a $100 fine. Fines are cumulative and each day in which a violation occurs is considered a separate offense.
Town Counsel Katherine Feodoroff relayed, through Keating, that the language was clear.
The polystyrene container bylaw, passed unanimously, does not include plastic straws, cutlery or anything not listed in the bylaw — foam plates, cups, bowls, trays and hinged or lidded containers are the only items listed.
“I know a lot of people care about their Dunkin’ Donuts [polystyrene] cup,” Dyer said. “If you have not heard, Dunkin’ Donuts is moving away from the [polystyrene] cups by the end of 2020 throughout the nation. Regardless of whether this passes or not, the [polystyrene] cups are going to disappear.”
He said polystyrene, like the plastic grocery bags does not break down.
Elm Street resident Gilbert Allen said his only concern was about Meals on Wheels containers and the ability of seniors to obtain to-go containers at restaurants.
“What are we going to replace them with?” he asked.
Dyer explained his research showed the only concern he found was about thermal protection for people with sensitive fingers. Paper and other products that are more degradeable or recycleable are an answer he indicated.
The night’s final two articles, centering on the citizens’ petition to limit the number of marijuana establishments to one, under both general and zoning bylaws, generated discussion on potential environmental impacts of the business as well as whether the issue should go to the ballot.
“Hanson voters voted to prohibit marijuana retailers,” said co-petitioners Annette Benenato of Brookside Drive. “But there is currently no limit on the number of other types of marijuana businesses in town.”
She argued that the amount of electricity required — from lighting an HVAC needs — to grow the plants, and the impact on water consumption make the business and environmentally unfriendly business model.
She charged a portion of liquid waste could pollute groundwater and aquifers and said extraction of THC is a dangerous process and that impact fees of 3 percent to help mitigate the business effect on town services would only last five years.
Asked why the Finance Committee voted not to recommend the article, Chairman Kevin Sullivan said, “These are legitimate businesses.”
“They will continue to provide revenue to the town,” Sullivan said. “That can fluctuate, but they will continue to provide revenue. … They will not be exempt from taxes.”
Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said that language in the community host agreement does not allow the company, Impressed LLC, to “flip and request an agricultural exemption.” The Selectmen also voted not to recommend.
Paul Benenato pointed to tobacco, lottery and alcohol retailers “never turn out very well for the taxpayers.”
When asked about the claims of impact on town aquifer and waste water plans, Water Commissioner Don Howard said he was not fully aware of the issue, saying he had questions about it himself.
“This is a highly regulated industry like nothing I’ve ever seen,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said, noting that Impressed LLC will be collecting agricultural discharge water out and trucking in water they need. She also stressed that Impressed LLC is not the issue.
Another resident asked if any other industry in town was limited to a single business.
“Are there businesses pounding down our door to take up residence here, and if the marijuana industry thinks this could be a potential match, then I think its worth considering on an individual basis going forward and not putting out a blanket rule in advance that limits us,” asked a Squantum Avenue resident opposed to the article. She noted that, without new business, and a continued reluctance to raise taxes, Hanson would not be able to fund schools or other budget needs.
Conservation Commissioner Phil Clemons pointed out that, the trucked in water comes from another aquifer in town.
South Street resident Richard Edgehille asked how the article could legally limit the number of businesses in town.
Feodoroff said limitations can be set on the marijuana industry, but the petition before the Town Meeting was not one that triggers a ballot vote.
She also stressed the wastewater is handled in a closed system to protect groundwater, and the discharge of water into any system is something that is “very highly regulated by the Cannabis Control Commission.”
Patrick Powers of Holmes Street suggested passing over the article for May to enable a town-wide ballot.
“We should stay consistent with that, as opposed to try to sneak something through,” Powers said.