OPINION: City of Framingham’s Bag Bylaw Needs To Be Revisited & Revised

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By Magda Janus

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FRAMINGHAM – The bylaw that was passed in 2019, to implement a fee ($0.10) for any disposable bags used by all stores in Framingham, is now in effect.

Many residents have noticed that it should have been revised or possibly completely reworked due to the new shopping habits of many shoppers. For example, those who choose to use curbside pick up, either because it is convenient or because it is exceptionally helpful for anyone old and/or in poor health, is now forced to pay for bags.

The number of the bags cannot be controlled by the store. Each store has its own system for online (curbside pick up and delivery) shopping and there is no practical way to avoid using bags, or to allow customers to bring their own instead. This was overlooked in the bylaw because it did not exist before the pandemic.

I have had a very informative conversation with the manager of one of a Framingham’s Stop & Shop and he has no solutions. We discussed the possibility of returning the bags at the time of pick-up and receiving credit but it would have to be approved by both the City and his corporate offices, plus it would create a lot of extra work for the store staff. He cannot provide other (free) options, like boxes, because the store has no place to store those in any quantity.     

The notion of incentivizing everyone to use reusable bags from almost 2 years ago seems now a bit shortsighted.

Ultimately I would like to see this bylaw revisited and revised.

It now has created unintended consequences that hit hard those who may not be able to go back to in-person shopping.

I am mostly concerned for the elderly with multiple health problems (low energy levels, balance problems, inability to walk and/or stand for prolonged times for starters) who simply prefer to do their shopping online.

The curbside pick up option has a small convenience fee ($2.95) that for many is an acceptable expense. It is a service and it deserves an appropriate fee. The fee for the bags is a different matter.

According to the store manager many customers who could either bring their own bags or pay for the disposable ones did not like the new bylaw and were very vocal, even hostile once informed by cashiers about it.        

Personally I can adapt and for now live with it. I am relatively young, my memory works well most of the time, and I grew up in communist Eastern Europe without the convenience of disposable grocery bags. But the world does not revolve around me. There are others who may be too old, too tired, too sick to raise objection. They will quietly absorb this additional cost (anywhere from $50 and up/year) and go without other things/necessities.

My disappointment is with our government not truly understanding the consequences of not just this, but many other bylaws put in place that affect negatively different groups of Framingham residents.

On one hand we love how diverse our community is, on the other hand we are either blind or unable to understand the whole concept of diversity (age, income, ability to adapt to major changes health-wise). Diversity is not just language, skin color and religious beliefs, there is so much more to it that often gets overlooked.

It is time legislative and executive branches of our local government actively start looking for unintended consequences of all new laws, bylaws, and mandates. It is easy to see what the aim is, it is often impossible to notice what is in our peripheral vision when we are not looking there at all. Each well meaning action intended as a positive move, almost always has some negative effect in places where we do not expect. We need to do better, we need to care about everyone. 

Magda Janus is a resident of Framingham who is running for City Council District 7.

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