JP Observer: Spread the word, not the mess: Plastic bags are out; cleaner electricity coming

November 23, 2018
By

Jamaica Plain residents and business people have the opportunity to help the environment significantly by taking action right here in the neighborhood in two different ways.

The City of Boston is launching BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) when shopping in Boston. Beginning Dec. 14, just in time for the holiday shopping season, Boston stores will no longer be allowed to put retail purchases into single-use, thin plastic bags. Shoppers are being asked to provide their own.

Restaurants, too, must abide by the ordinance if they give customers food in bags.

JP Centre/South Main Streets (JP CSMS) is encouraging JP folks to compete with other Boston neighborhoods, and they are distributing flyers saying, “Let’s be ready before everyone else!”

The local group will pass out free shopping totes in front of JP Licks the afternoon of Sat., Nov. 24, known as “Small Business Saturday.” JP CSMS is asking residents and businesses to start implementing the plastic ban that day, weeks before the whole city is supposed to start but at the beginning of shopping season.

JP just might do it; it was the first Boston neighborhood to do recycling (not curbside) back in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Community Choice Energy (CCE) is in the early stages of implementation now. CCE will eventually allow local residents and businesses to get more affordable and accessible electricity powered by renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Both of these programs, the bag ban and the renewable energy effort—in place already in other places in Massachusetts—originated here and were discussed in the Boston City Council Environment & Sustainability Committee chaired by JP’s City Councilor Matt O’Malley in several meetings in 2017. Both were passed unanimously by the Council in the fall and later signed into law by Mayor Marty Walsh.

Under the leadership of Chris Cook—who became chief of the Office of Environment, Energy and Open Space last summer, in addition to already being Commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department—both environmental improvement projects are now moving forward.

“These efforts directly rely on community involvement. It’s a positive opportunity for people to help their friends and neighbors” by making sure they are informed, Cook said in a telephone interview with him and outreach staff earlier this month.

“Community engagement is important,” as the City works toward the overall goals of Boston’s Climate Action Plan, Cook said. The plan calls for a carbon-neutral Boston by 2050.

• The thin plastic bags provided by many businesses over the years are a menace to the environment at all levels. They are not recyclable and result in tons of solid waste. Locally, they block storm drains and blow around in the streets. Sometimes they get stuck in trees, waving at everyone insight as if to flaunt their near immortality and their power over natural beauty.

Nearby Cambridge and Brookline are among 80 Massachusetts cities and towns that already have plastic bag bans. New York is considering a statewide ban.

According to the new City law, after Dec. 14, merchants and restaurant owners will be allowed to provide customers with either a reusable bag, a recycled paper bag or a compostable bag, for which they must charge at least five cents that will show on the receipt. Or businesses may choose to provide no bag at all. Businesses may apply for a temporary exemption in some situations.

The Inspectional Services Department (ISD) is working closely with the Office of Environment, Energy and Open Space to get the word out and will work on the enforcement aspect after the program gets started as well.
The Weights and Measures division of ISD will start in mid-December by checking on bigger retailers and by mid-summer will inspect the smallest businesses. A system of graduated penalties will be in place from a warning to $100 fines for repeat offenses.

Cook and staff member Stephanie Acquario, who is working to get the word out about the shopping bag changes, emphasized in the interview that the goal of the ban is for shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. Thin bags may still be used for produce, meats, frozen foods, laundry and dry cleaning, and newspapers.

Acquario and ISD Commissioner Buddy Christopher have been going to community meetings to talk about BYOB. Acquario, who spoke at the JP Business and Professional Association board meeting last month, said she has gotten word to the Elderly Commission and Boston Main Streets programs. They are sending 22,000 letters to businesses and residents, as well as putting up flyers.

Everyone can help get rid of polluting bags by telling friends and neighbors how and where they can learn more. For more information, anyone can visit boston.gov/plastic-bags, email Stephanie Acquario at [email protected] or call 617-635-1761 or even 311.

• CCE is not as far along as BYOB. Individual residents and business people won’t be asked to sign on for many months. Meanwhile, fans of electricity powered by more renewable sources in Boston can be happy that the state’s CCE implementation process that seemed bogged down in June is in full swing now and will include community input all the way.

After putting out a Request for Qualifications from consulting firms in late August, the City has two finalists, Cook said. The consultant will help research sources of renewable energy. Electricity will still be billed and distributed by Eversource.

Lauren Zingarelli, director of Communications and Community Engagement for the Office of Environment, Energy and Open Space, said in a follow-up email to the interview that the next step will be to select a preferred vendor.
As is also spelled out in the CCE process, the City is putting together what Cook is calling a “flexible working group” made up of community people active and interested in this issue that he hopes to convene before the end of this year.

Boston Climate Action Network, which often meets in JP, will be among many asked to participate.

It will be a year and a half before the City has a plan to present to the Department of Public Utilities, Cook said. “We will ask for and need broad-based community support” as it is put together, he said.

When it comes to ordinary people helping to reduce carbon pollution, Cook and Zingarelli also touted Mass Save. The City, through the Mass Save program, can help Boston residents reduce their energy use in their homes, they said. Mass Save offers resources and helpful tips at https://www.boston.gov/departments/environment/renew-boston.

As Cook said at the beginning of the interview, it took a while for problems with the environment to develop, and it takes time to fix them.

We need to ramp up what we’re doing, including encouraging friends and neighbors to do the same, right here in Jamaica Plain.

Sandra Storey is founder and former publisher and editor of the Jamaica Plain Gazette.

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