Walking through Brookline Village, a resident might be surprised to see a large number of people still toting plastic shopping bags rather than their paper counterparts. Brookline Town Meeting last November banned plastic bags and polystyrene to-go containers.
More than 75 town businesses fell under the jurisdiction of the plastic bag ban, and 350 businesses — including all the town’s restaurants — fell under the restrictions of banned polystyrene products.
Still, a few months into official inspections, businesses and residents are still having a hard time adjusting to and understanding the legislation.
Geron Gjata, daytime manager of Martin’s Coffee Shop at 35 Harvard St., a small business, said, “If you are a big business, perhaps you don’t mind, but for the smaller guys it really costs us.”
Martin’s Coffee Shop is exempt from the plastic bag ban because it is less than 250 square feet.. But as a food vendor it must obey the ban on polystyrene to-go containers — of which the shop is still in clear violation.
Gjata said that while the town has been lenient in granting extensions and appeals so small business can have more time to find a cost-effective alternative, ultimately small businesses like Martin’s will take a hit.
Brookline Director of Health and Human Services Alan Balsam said the legislation was not intended to harm any of the township’s small businesses, and that steps have been taken to minimize harm while still optimizing productivity of the new law. Some ways in which the town plans to implement this policy is through a multi-phase system of educating business owners and working with them to find environmentally friendly alternative products.
“We haven’t gotten there yet. We’re going to start with education, working with people,” Balsam said. “We know that if they don’t comply after their waiver expires, we would give them a warning. Then and only then, would we fine them either $50 or $100 per infraction, depending on whether the violation involves polystyrene or the plastic bags.”
Specifics regarding compliance infractions and penalties are still being developed. Meanwhile, town residents have varying opinions on the ban.
Brookline resident Chris Vee called the ban “asinine.”
“If the individual suffers at the hand of the collective, the results are just as harmful,” Vee said, adding that he believes the people really suffering at the hands of this legislation are the customers. “People do recycle plastic bags. They use them to line their garbage bins and for cat litter. They last longer than paper bags, which get wet one time and become useless.”
But Beth Signore, of Brookline Fine Wine and Gourmet at 27 Harvard St. said, “All in all I think its good legislation. I believe it is a small change that we can make to achieve a big difference.”
“I think we all need to care about the environment, and Brookline is one of those places where residents understand that to enjoy a progressive community means to change with the times,” Signore said.
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.