Plastic shopping bags are banned in Barrington starting today, Jan. 1, for at least two-plus years.
And most merchants appear to be ready for the transition from plastic to paper or cloth bags.
Plastic bags were still in evidence at stores early Monday afternoon. But the managers at all the stores and restaurants visited had new stocks of paper bags ready to hold merchandise or carry takeout orders.
Several merchants, such as Shaw's supermarket and Center ACE Hardware, actually have been phasing out plastic bags for several months -- the time period given by the Town Council to transition to paper or cloth bags.
Chain stores simply shipped leftover plastic bags to other nearby stores, several managers said. The CVS store in the Barrington shopping plaza was still waiting for the larger bags with handles. But there were plenty of smaller bags on hand.
The Rite Aid pharmacy had both sizes of paper bags behind the counters.
Most of the paper bags at the stores appeared to be made from recycled paper.
The Town Council approved the ordinance that bans plastic grocery and takeout bags in late September. It includes a "sunset" provision makes plastic bags legal again on Jan. 31, 2015. But the ordinance will be revisited again at that time.
The sunset provision was added to evaluate the impact of the ban on business.
The vote for the ban came after a public hearing at which most speakers said they favored banning the bags because of environmental concerns. Speakers who opposed the ban did so primarily because they believe recycling is a better option.
Town Councilor Bill DeWitt, the only councilor to vote agains the ban, said: "I don't think we're solving the probem. I think we're just changing the problem at the end of the day."
Town Councilor Kate Weymouth, perhaps the most vocal supporter of the ordinance, said: "Someone needs to get this started. Plastic bags have such a devastating effect on the water and sea life."
The nearest town that has banned plastic bags is Westport, Conn., making Barrington the second town in New England to adopt a ban.
"Perhaps Barrington can give the state an little nudge," said Town Council President June Speakman. "If we can do it, the state can do it."
The ordinance bans plastic bags “to improve the environment in Barrington and the health, safety and welfare of its residents by encouraging the use of reusable checkout bags.” It encourages retailers to offer for sale reusable bags.
Center ACE Hardware is selling two types of reusable cloth bags for 99 cents each. Other merchants are selling bags for around the same price.
The ordinance includes fines of up to $300 per violation and describes how the ordinance would be enforced – either by the police department or an officer of the town manager.
A potential violation would be investigated and followed up with a written notice to the owner or manager of the retail establishment. The notice would either be served to the owner or manager in person or by posting it in a conspicuous place of the store and sending a copy to the owner or manager.
A retail store’s owner or manager would have to respond in writing within 14 days that the violation has ended. A second violation after the 14-day response period and within one year of the response from the retailer would lead to a $150 fine.
A third violation within a year of the second and any subsequent violations would lead to a $300 fine.