Northampton’s two-year-old plastic bag ban has an outspoken opponent in McDonald House resident John Gibney, who gets around using a cane.
Gibney, who wrote the Advocate an email this week with the subject “paper bags suck,” challenged Mayor David Narkewicz and members of the City Council to a race from State Street Fruit Store to City Hall. He would use plastic bags and the officials could use paper.
“I will provide the canes,” he wrote.
At his home Wednesday, Jan. 17, Gibney said using paper bags is a hassle while trying to use a cane because the bags break — something that happened to him a few months ago.
“[My groceries] were all over the sidewalk and I had the cane,” said Gibney, who has lived in Northampton since 1990. “I had to leave half the stuff on the sidewalk because I couldn’t carry it.”
Narkewicz told the Valley Advocate that he hadn’t been contacted by Gibney, but would be happy to talk with him.
“Many families have switched to reusable bags … There are other options than using paper bags,” Narkewicz said.
Northampton’s ban on single use plastic bags went into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, and includes a ban on plastic bags that are less than 0.3 mils (1 mil = 1/1000 inch) thick, according to the city’s website. The city allows reusable bags, biodegradable bags, and compostable plastic bags.
South Hadley adopted a plastic bag ban, which went into effect on Jan. 1, but there have been no complaints from any handicapped residents in the community, Town Administrator Mike Sullivan said.
Amherst Town Manager Paul Bockelman said he hasn’t heard of any direct complaints of handicapped residents against the plastic bag ban, but added that there have been criticisms in the business community, some of which have switched to thicker plastic bags that are intended for multiple uses.
Springfield, Chicopee, and Easthampton are all considering adopting plastic bag bans, but have yet to make a final decision. The only communities in the Pioneer Valley to have adopted plastic bag bans thus far include Northampton, South Hadley, and Amherst.
When asked if he’s used alternatives to paper bags such as bringing his own bag for shopping, Gibney replied, “Sometimes I forget and I go there and they have paper bags and they say, ‘It’s the law,’ and I say, ‘It’s going to change.’”
Richard Cooper, owner of State Street Fruit Store, said customers have expressed disappointment about not being able to use plastic bags, but added the majority of customers now bring their own bags.
“I haven’t had any complaints of bags breaking,” he said.
Paul Czapienski, co-owner of Foster Farrar True Value, a home improvement store on King Street in Northampton, said his main complaint with the plastic bag ban has been the increased costs to businesses.
“As far as the impact on business — paper bags cost a hell of a lot more than the plastic,” he said.
When asked if he’d like to see the ban reversed, Czapienski replied “yes and no” — he understands the city’s decision was based on protecting the environment, but thinks its been a financial burden on local businesses.
He also said he’s never heard of any complaints in regards to paper bags breaking.
Gibney said he believes the ordinance banning plastic bags ignores people who are handicapped, especially people who live at the MacDonald House.
Jude Sidney, a resident at the McDonald House who is in a wheelchair, disagrees. She supports the plastic bag ban for environmental reasons.
“I think hurting this planet is horrible,” she said. “I definitely believe in global warming. Plastic doesn’t disintegrate. So, there’s other options. You can buy a handled bag or you can bring your own bags, including plastic, to your grocery store. I also think there’s much larger issues to worry about.”
Chris Goudreau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.