Officials poke legal holes in New London’s plastic bag ban


NEW LONDON — The Kearsarge Regional Higher School Sustainability Club expended months campaigning for a plastic bag ban in New London, only to see a nuance in state legislation stymie their endeavours.

Previously this yr, the students gave themselves a crash system in municipal authorities, investigated ordinances in other states, collected signatures on icy wintertime days and created their case at Town Meeting.

The ordinance that they petitioned onto the town warrant banned solitary-use plastic bags at retail checkout, with exemptions for deliver baggage and cafe takeout.

The club leaders explained they showed up at Town Assembly prepared to response hard questions. As a substitute, New London people stood up to support the ordinance, and the pupils heard congratulations ahead of the vote had even been identified as.

Guaranteed enough, New London adopted the ban. But it wasn’t extended before the students’ victory evaporated.

The Selectboard despatched the club a letter on March 31 informing them that the town lacked the authority to set up the plastic bag ban, and the ordinance they’d worked so really hard to enact could not be enforced.

“It’s like if you have been jogging a race, and you cross the end line, and you never see everyone in entrance of you, and you believe you are very first, and next issue you know you had been essentially lapped by all people,” mentioned Meghan Blood, the club secretary.

“They just preserve relocating the end line,” extra Madelin Prak, the club president.

Prak led the energy with Blood, vice president Amber Houle and treasurer Jane Anderson, but it was a group initiative on the component of the whole Sustainability Club.

Social scientific studies instructor Ruby Hill assisted them and read over their ordinance, but Erik Anderson, the club’s adviser, emphasised that it was university student-pushed.

Now the pupils strategy to consider their advocacy to the point out stage.

Subsequent City Meeting, the New Hampshire Residence of Representatives tabled HB 1119, which would have explicitly provided towns the proper to regulate paper and plastic bags. It turns out New London was not by yourself in its failed endeavor to ban plastic bags.

Under the New Hampshire constitution, cities do not have what’s know as residence rule. That frequently signifies municipal governments only have authorities that have been granted by the Legislature. Without the need of a law this kind of as HB 1119, selectboards in New London and in other places do not have authority to adopt their possess plastic bag ordinance.

The New London Selectboard inspired the students to get in contact with their point out associates.

“My city obviously is truly intrigued in possessing an ordinance on this. I characterize my constituents. That (a plastic bag ban) would be anything I’d want to see worked on at the legislative level,” said Rep. Karen Ebel, D-New London, who is lively in attempts to lower squander streams and make improvements to recycling in New Hampshire.

The 2022 Town Assembly was not the very first time that New London voters voiced guidance for limiting plastic. At the 2020 Town Meeting, they passed an ordinance that voiced the town’s support for a statewide ban and encouraged area businesses to cost a tiny price for solitary-use luggage.

But the students discovered in their exploration that this preliminary work fell by the wayside during the pandemic.

Rep. Dan Wolf, R-Newbury, who also represents New London, mentioned a patchwork of municipal bans across the state could increase problems.

“It could possibly penalize a person retailer over one more,” he explained. “What occurs if you have a Market Basket in New London and a Sector Basket in another town that does not have a ban? How do you offer with that?”

There is at this time no Current market Basket in New London, however there is a Hannaford.

Although he mentioned he is in favor of limiting plastic, he doubted that the condition was ready for a ban since he did not feel that “a fair alternative” was quickly out there.

Still not everyone agrees that cities really don’t currently have the authority to control their very own sound waste.

Melissa Gates is the Northeast regional supervisor of the Surfrider Basis, a nonprofit that shields oceans and fights plastic air pollution. The Sustainability Club contacted her as it researched how to go an ordinance.

She argues that towns in New Hampshire have the authority to ban plastic baggage due to the fact they have specific authority to control their good waste.

“To place this in context, visualize the absurdity of every single one product disposed of in New Hampshire needing to be explicitly itemized in buy to drop under a town’s authority to deal with its good waste,” she reported.

To retain up with things sold and thrown away, there would have to be continual administrative oversight and ample crimson tape that would have to be up-to-date weekly, she explained.

She also cited New Hampshire regulations that prioritize lowering waste headed to landfills for the superior of the two the setting and public overall health.

When the Surfrider Basis testified in favor of HB 1119, it framed the invoice as a essential clarification simply because ambiguity experienced previously stymied local attempts to restrict plastic in other municipalities.

“HB 1119 was the most recent iteration of a very long line of legislative tries that the Surfrider Foundation New Hampshire Chapter has assisted direct more than the last ten years in an hard work to clarify the current authority for N.H. municipalities to deal with solitary-use things in the wastestream,” Gates said.

New London would not have been the to start with municipality in the point out to ban some plastic.

Portsmouth has handed ordinances banning some solitary-use plastic and has enforced them without problem, explained Stephanie Seacord, the city public facts officer. A single ordinance bans all one-use plastic on city residence, and one more bans styrofoams throughout the town.

But as opposed to New London, Portsmouth is a metropolis, not a city, and metropolitan areas have far more electrical power to act independently from the Legislature, which grants them broad authority to pass ordinances for “for the nicely-becoming of the city.”

The city is concentrating on schooling and incentives — this sort of as one-time reductions in fees to use sidewalks — to support dining establishments changeover to compostable foods wares, Seacord mentioned. The ordinance also provides the metropolis the right to build fines.

In the meantime, members of the Sustainability Club mentioned irrespective of the result in New London, they are far better organized to participate in govt.

“We weren’t guaranteed what we had been executing or how to navigate the authorized course of action — we’re even now navigating the legal system,” Prak explained.

Now, they have attained some challenging-gained practical experience: They uncovered to often collect extra signatures soon after a trouble with their initially filed petition led to a previous-moment scramble next a difficulty with a signature. And they realized that transforming the law takes heaps of time and analysis.

But they won’t be offering up.

“I feel if education was plenty of, much more folks would be accomplishing it proper now,” Prak mentioned. “(Plastic bags) are really bad for the natural environment. Most individuals know that. It is not anything that most men and women deny, but it is relieve more than the ecosystem.”

Claire Potter is a Report for America corps member. She can be attained at [email protected] or 603-727-3242.


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