Long valued for their scenic beauty, rural charm, and unspoiled landscapes, the Berkshires are getting even greener. Most of the area’s larger communities, from Great Barrington to Williamstown, are tackling the impacts of non-essential plastics. These include thin, single-use plastic shopping bags and polystyrene drink and food containers.
Measures to reduce the use of plastic bags and polystyrene aren’t new. In fact, the US is behind other countries in addressing these plastics, particularly bags. Increased attention worldwide is being paid to these products due to concerns about energy use, environmental degradation, public health, and even waste systems problems. The most common measures prohibit the use of these products.
Nantucket was the first Massachusetts community to address plastics, in 1989. Great Barrington wasn’t far behind, adopting a restriction on polystyrene containers in 1990. What can now be called a movement has accelerated here as it has in the eastern portion of the state. Great Barrington led the way again with a 2013 bylaw regulating plastic bags. Williamstown adopted pioneering bylaws governing bags and polystyrene (including packing “peanuts”) in 2015 and Pittsfield (which is currently considering a plastic bag measure) passed a polystyrene ordinance later that year. Lee and Lenox, working together through much of the process, adopted advanced measures for both sets of products last year. Adams joined in shortly thereafter with a plastic bag bylaw. Regulations in these three towns go into effect this spring and summer. Other communities, including Dalton and Stockbridge, are also going down this path.
What does this mean for residents and visitors? The advocates of these regulations certainly hope you’ll see far less litter. This alone will make walks in the region more enjoyable. The reduced plastic waste will also help wildlife and soil quality.
Given that legal restrictions on these plastic products vary across the region, what guidance can we provide? It’s pretty simple: bring your own reusable shopping bags and mugs when you visit or purchase a few while you’re here. Not surprisingly, the Berkshires is blessed with a wealth of creative people making and selling reusable bags, so you can support our local economy and be green at the same time! It’s a win-win!
Many of you (indeed, almost 1 ¼ million people in Massachusetts alone) live in communities that have taken similar steps to reduce plastic waste. So do what you do at home – bring your reusable bags and other containers with you when you shop, eat out, etc. If you do, you’ll be playing your part in making the Berkshires even greener.