Category Archives: Environment

Another Idea on how to have a Win-Win on Recycling Plastic Bags

An idea. I’m brainstorming here.

RecyleCleanThe plastic bag industry definitely has gotten the memo loud and clear about recycling plastic bags. However, the plastic bag recycling industry wants clean dry thin filmed plastic bags for recycling, not soiled ones. That means they want plastic bags to be returned to participating stores. Neither the plastic industry or the City of Newburyport wants them in the recycling bins (plastic bags reek havoc for our recycling machines). The thin film plastic bags and other clean, dry thin film products are then bailed and shipped to places in the United States or to Canada or China for recycling. Recycling thin clean, dry thin film plastic is a billion dollar business, for real (see earlier entry).

So this might be a way to have small stores to be able to recycle plastic bags, if that is what they would like to do. Maybe the stores downtown, on Storey Avenue and in the Tannery might be able to participate (if they wanted to, along with providing reusable bags and bags made out of paper, I’ve seen some really nice ones from stores downtown). And maybe either Market Basket or Shaw’s might be able to be the “anchor store” (see below).

If the “industry” is involved, (the “bad guys”) in helping the city with a plastic bag recycling program, then the plastic bag industry has a real incentive to not only help us start something effective, but make sure that each year it becomes more and more successful.

So this is a quote from PlasticFilmRecycling.org on a “Business-to-Business” (B2B) pilot program.  And the website may look like a non-profit, but the American Chemistry Council is behind it (see the fine print at the bottom).  So yes, I am proposing that environmentalist work with “the bad guys” to come up with a solution instead of an outright ban on plastic bags. Nelson Mandela knew about working with your enemy–he becomes your partner.

b2b

This is from “Business-to-Business” (B2B), the entire link can be read here. 

“The B2B recycling program staff facilitated partnerships with large retail “anchor” stores and their smaller neighbor merchants that are located in shopping centers and malls. The anchor stores serve as collection points for clean, used plastic bags and film from their customers and from the neighboring stores. The anchor store is then able to use its existing infrastructure to transfer or “backhaul” the plastic bags and film back centers in delivery trucks that would otherwise return empty to their distribution centers.

The smaller retailers benefit because they are able to take advantage of a recycling opportunity that in most cases would be too expensive or unavailable to them. The anchor store benefits by being able to sell more recyclable material and to promote its environmental efforts by using existing resources and committing to a relatively small increase in labor. The Orange County SWMD benefits in many ways including conservation of landfill space due avoided disposal of tons of plastic bags and film, increased recycling rates, and avoided costs for a commercial recycling program as a result of the successes of the B2B recycling program.”

NOAA_debris

And to learn about Marine Debris, visit NOAA’s (U.S Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Marine Debris website here, including information on what is sometimes referred to the great garbage patch, or how debris accumulates in the ocean here.

From NOAA: “Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there. Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, vessels, and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day, making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways…”  “The term “Pacific Garbage Patch” is a popular nickname for an area of marine debris concentration in the North Pacific Ocean, located in between Hawaii and California…” “While higher concentrations of litter items can be found in this area, along with other debris such as derelict fishing nets, much of the debris is small pieces of floating plastic that are not immediately evident to the naked eye…”

And from NOAA’s Marine Debris Blog, which can be read here.

“With all of this information flying around, much of it conflicting, what is actually known about these topics? And what do we believe?

First, the name “garbage patch” is a misnomer. There is no island of trash forming in the middle of the ocean, and it cannot be seen with satellite or aerial photographs. While it’s true that these areas have a higher concentration of plastic than other parts of the ocean, much of the debris found in these areas are small bits of plastic (microplastics) that are suspended throughout the water column.  A comparison I like to use is that the debris is more like flecks of pepper floating throughout a bowl of soup, rather than a skim of fat that accumulates (or sits) on the surface…”

“The bottom line really is that all of this human-made trash simply does not belong in our oceans or waterways…”

All of this is not good.  

Why I Personally Like my Plastic Bags, and NO, I’m Not in the Pocket of the Plastic Bag Industry

Gluten Free

Gluten Free

I just vowed I wouldn’t go there, put people ask me, “Why in the world do you want to have plastic bags so much?” And for anyone thinking or saying that I must be in the pocket of the plastic bag industry (because that seems to be the immediate reaction if you happen to like plastic bags), the answer is “No,” and believe me, I have opinions on stuff, people have accused me of a lot worse (see 7+ years of earlier posts).

I have something called celiac disease.  It has been ruled as a disability under the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA).  Who knew? not me that it was ruled a disability, until all this research on plastic bags last week. See the link on ADA and celiac here.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come out with a ruling saying something cannot be labeled gluten free, unless it is really and truly is gluten free, which they have said is 20 parts per million (20 ppm), in other words–a microscopic amount. You can read all about it here, if you feel like it. (That one I knew about, the FDA ruling thing. The White House actually sent me an email telling me about the new gluten food labeling by the FDA, it made my day, week, month, year.)

When I was diagnosed (and all of that info is on the blog if you want to go look for it) back in 2009, no one knew hardly nada about what celiac was. Now, gluten free, here we come, which as it plays out, is fantastic for people with celiac. I was told is that microscopic amounts would make me sick (as in eventually kills you), so scrub out your kitchen, throw out and replace all sorts of stuff.  I thought they were being hysterical nut cases. It turns out “they” were right. When I got rid of anything that might have microscopic amounts of gluten, I started to get better.

The weird thing about celiac is that if effects everyone differently, it has all kinds of different symptoms, and basically they still know mostly nada.  But I am one of those pesky folks where only digesting microscopic amounts takes me 6 weeks to recover. And am I paranoid about getting “glutened?” you bet I am.

Which brings me to plastic bags at the grocery store. When they open one of those plastic bags, I know that no gluten has ever, never ever, been in there.  I am safe, safe, safe. No need to wonder, did I bring home gluten stuff in this bag?  Do I throw this bag away? Do I throw them all away to be safe?  No, every plastic bag is a safe bag for moi.  And it brings peace of mind and serenity to the ever not wonderful challenge of going to the grocery store as a celiac (where gluten is everywhere and not in everything anymore, but still in tons of stuff). And I take those plastic bags that make me feel safe and never glutened, and recycle them back at the grocery store.

Whether people understand my fondness for plastic bags having celiac disease, is up to them. But for me, it is huge.

Trying for a Win-Win Solution instead of an Outright Ban on Plastic Bags, and the Plastic Bag Industry has Gotten the Message

RecyleCleanI went to Tuesday night’s meeting held by the Newburyport City Council on the Plastic Bag ban, and it was without doubt the most frustrating and depressing meeting that I’ve ever been to (and I’ve been to a lot of meetings), and my read was that I wasn’t exactly alone in feeling that way.

The meeting seemed to me to be more about a homily to a plastic bag ban, than a how can we problem solve this together as a community.  When I raised my hand, I said it felt a lot like being at a Waterfront meeting and being for some sort of buildings down there (you gotta live in Newburyport, to understand that one). (And this proposed ban is in 2 City Council committees, there will never be public hearings.)

There was a young lady at that meeting, and from what I could make out, she was not from Newburyport, who said that plastic bag lobbyists lived among our wards and were giving bribes to city councilors (city councilors, who were there, I may not have gotten that completely right, but that is basically what she said). I resent someone calling our local city government corrupt.

I chased down the plastic bag people who appear to recycle our plastic bags at Market Basket, Hilex Poly, to ask them to help us with a recycling program, I asked if it would be possible to have receptacles at the grocery stores that are fun and easy to notice.  I ended up talking to the lobbyist, who does live in Newburyport, many people know him, he was the campaign manager to John Kerry in the senate race against Governor Weld in the 1996 senate race and was then Senator Kerry’s chief of staff (John Kerry is now the Untied States Secretary of State). One of the city councilors at the meeting remarked that he was in fact helpful (I don’t remember the exact words).  Mr. Greenly agreed, and said he would get back to me this week.  We’ll see.

canada-map

Canada

The plastic bag industry has definitely got the memo that they better get going into putting a lot of effort into recycling plastic thin film bags.  And I now know more than I ever imagined about recycling plastic bags.

This is appears to be the bottom line. There is a billion dollar recycling plastic thin filmed industry.  There is a huge market for clean, dry thin filmed plastic, including clean, dry plastic bags. There isn’t a strong market for soiled plastic, but clean, dry plastic–it’s unbelievable the market for this stuff.  If you go to the back of our grocery stores, there will be bails of clean thin filmed plastic (including the recycled plastic bags) along with bails of clean cardboard.  Some of it is used here in the US (Hilex Poly has just built a $25 million dollar plastic bag recycling plant in Indiana). But the big bulk of it appears to be exported to China and Canada for big bucks, to be reused for all sorts of things, including decking by Trex.

Wegmans

Wegmans recycling program

And what I said at the meeting, is that every time I bring up the subject of recycling plastic bags as part of a 2 pronged strategy (used at a Mid-Atlantic grocery store called Wegmans, with the help of the plastic bag industry) of both recycling and using reusable bags, I get shouted down by environmentalists that recycling plastic bags is out of the question.

The plastic bags create absolute havoc with the machinery when they are put in the recycling bins here in Newburyport.  They gotta go back to the grocery stores, Market Basket and Shaw’s (or places like Lowe’s, Walmart, Sam’s Club up in Seabrook). People don’t know to bring them back. The plastic bag industry was more than willing to work with Mid-Atlantic grocery store Wegmans.  I feel as if I am shouting against the wind to try and get Newburyport to work with the “bad guys,” the plastic industry, to help us come up with a win-win solution here in Newburyport, because people for all sorts of reasons like their plastic bags, they just haven’t gotten the memo, (well, some have), what to do with them–i.e. return to sender, bring them back.

The article about Wegmans effort concerning plastic bags can be read here, including the video which can also be seen here.

Editor’s Note: From Wegmans Food Market

ROCHESTER, NY - It’s not every day that one good turn earns double credit! But during April, customers who bring their clean, dry plastic bags to a Wegmans Food Market for recycling can feel good twice over: First, for recycling their bags, and second, for helping to increase the contribution Wegmans is making to an organization that’s a friend of the earth, The Nature Conservancy.

Last year in April, Wegmans customers recycled 177,000 pounds of plastic bags – the equivalent of about 11 million new bags. The company wanted to improve on last year’s record and came up with a plan to contribute at least $10,000 to The Nature Conservancy, the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect lands and water for nature and people. To inspire customers to scour closets, pantries and other storage areas for plastic bags to recycle, Wegmans pledged to contribute 50 cents to the Conservancy for every additional pound above last year’s total of 177,000 (with a minimum contribution of $10,000).

“Sustainability is a company-wide priority at Wegmans,” says Sustainability Coordinator Jason Wadsworth, “and the duty to protect air, land and water for people today and tomorrow belongs to all of us. We’re very proud of the steps we and our customers have already taken to reduce, reuse and recycle, but to keep moving in the right direction, we need to keep coming up with more and better ways to conserve these precious resources. It made sense to us to inspire customers to do their best too by working together on this recycling initiative.”

During April, signs near the recycling bins in the stores’ vestibules will remind customers to bring in their plastic bags for recycling, and Wegmans will track the total weight as the month goes by. In addition, on Saturday April 26 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., the first 300 customers at every store who bring in a bunch of clean dry plastic bags will receive a coupon for a Wegmans reusable bag.

“The reusable bags come in lots of designs and colors, and they’re actually the best option from an environmental standpoint,” Wadsworth says.

Since some customers prefer plastic bags, however, Wegmans has also looked for ways to increase the amount of plastic that is recycled. In January, Wegmans introduced new plastic bags with the slogan “Return to Sender.” The bags are made with 40% recycled plastic. “It helps people to know we put their plastic shopping bags to good use after they bring them back to the store. Our supplier uses those recycled bags as raw material for brand new bags. Last year, together with our customers, Wegmans recycled a total of 3.6 million pounds of plastic bags and wrapping.”

Today, every Wegmans store now uses on average 4,000 fewer plastic carry-out bags per day compared with 2007, the year Wegmans introduced reusable bags and began reformulating its carry-out plastic bags. That’s 120 million fewer bags each year.

To read please see link here.

The Recycling Plastic Bag Slurping Machine

recycle-machine-happyChild

Fun recycling slurping plastic bag machine

I really like the idea of a single use plastic bag recycling slurping machine. (Please see earlier entry here.)

First of all, the plastic bag industry has a huge PR problem on their hands. The sustainable bag folks are right, plastic bags are wandering around not only our local environment, but all over the place.  And the approach at the moment is to ban them outright, which causes all kinds of friction in communities, all over North America.

And it’s time that the plastic bag folks worked with environmentalists instead of against them, because for the plastic bag industry it comes down to keeping your product which equals = $$ money.

For example, If you had a recycling machine that slurped plastic bags (without slurping in little hands that might feed them) for either a small amount of money, or maybe something like points that could be redeemed for money, you could be a hero to young mothers and fathers everywhere. What little child wouldn’t be mesmerized by machine that slurps plastic bags.

If a young mother or father who needs to go to the grocery store, and young Emma or Aiden is tired and cranky and doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, the young parent can say, “Honey, if we go to the slurping plastic bag machine first, will you help mommy or daddy go grocery shopping, and then we can use the rest of the plastic bags at the slurping machine when we’re done.” It might be a real incentive to a) recycle plastic bags and b) go cooperate with their parents at the grocery store. You, plastic bag company,  become a hero.

On one of those horrible rainy days when kids are stuck inside, a trip to your local supermarket or wherever, where young kids can feed in plastic bags to the plastic bag recycling slurping machine, could be a real godsend for something fun + practical to do.  Been in those parents shoes, know what it’s like.

And if little Emma or Aiden can make some money to boot, they are going to be begging their neighbors, their Nana for their plastic bags to take to this fun plastic bag slurping recycling machine.  Pretty soon, Emma and Aiden, whether they are environmentalists or not, learn about recycling because it’s fun, and they get lots of positive feedback from helping people as well.

Schools could have fundraisers using the plastic bag recycling slurping machine, make a little money, and learn how to help the environment while they are doing it. And you plastic bag industry look great.

The plastic bag recycling slurping machine wouldn’t be good just for Newburyport, it would be good for everyone all over the world.  The plastic bag folks could then help solve a world wide problem, and be heroes instead of the goat.

Recycle_BagThe other thing, is that the production of the plastic bag recycling slurping machine would help create a whole new industry and lots of new jobs (preferably here in Massachusetts).

This also assumes that people know loud and clear where to take those single use plastic bags.  Having great big huge “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” logos on plastic bags, and exactly where to return them, would be real easy to legislate (much easier than an outright ban). And plastic bag industry, why not beat the government to the punch, and do that yourselves. Again, you would be heroes, instead of the people known for causing a major environmental problem.

A Fun Way to Recycle Plastic Bags

Recycle_BagRecycle_BagLook, not only do I get that plastic bags are detrimental to our wetland and coastal areas, I agree with it.  However, instead of an outright ban, I’d like a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of single use plastic bags.  And I understand that Market Basket has been unresponsive to this issue (and the single use plastic bag industry must be as well, since their “recycle and reuse” logo is so tiny, you can hardly see it), and I hope that the proposed ban forces Market Basket to have a meaningful dialogue with the city council and residents about how to solve this issue.

And this is what I don’t understand.  First of all, it would be a giant PR move for both the single use plastic bag industry and the supermarket industry if they put big, huge colorful “reduce, recycle, reuse” logos on their plastic bags, with where to recycle them (i.e. at Market Basket or Shaws) in big bold letters, instead of in fine print at the bottom.  Both industries would be heroes instead of goats. Seems like a pretty good idea to me. If both those businesses/industries did that, we might not be having this local fight over plastic bags, that we are having now, and they would help the environment all over the place. This would be a good thing.

recycle-machine copy

Fun slurping recycling machine

The other thing is, that if I was an inventor, or if I was the plastic bag industry, I’d find me an inventor, to have a fun way to recycle the plastic bags once they got to the supermarket.  If I was an inventor, I’d invent a machine that slurped the plastic bags in one at a time and gave a penny for each plastic bag, or a penny for 5 plastic bags (whatever is economical and fair).  First of all, little kids (or even grown-ups) would be mesmerized by a machine that slurped plastic bags.

And when you could first get money for returning cans, people were scouring all over the place, cities, suburbs, to find cans to make some extra money.  If you had a fun machine that slurped plastic bags AND got a little dough in the process, I bet the same thing would happen, and I bet you would have a whole lot less single use plastic bags wandering around our environment, and I bet they’d be reduced in a major, major way, pretty quick.  It would be a huge PR win for the plastic bag industry, and they wouldn’t be so vilified and it would be fun to boot. And it would be a good thing for the plastic bag industry to work with environmentalists  to help solve problems for a win-win solution.

Meeting to Discuss the Proposed Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance and Contact Information

The Newburyport City Council meeting, the Council of a Whole, to discuss the proposed Ban the Plastic Bag Ordinance, is taking place Tuesday April 1, 2014 at 7PM at City Hall. This is where the public can express their opinions, and legally the members of the City Council can talk about the proposed ordinance together.

The Neighborhood & City Services/License & Permits Committee of Whole
April 1, 2014 – 7:00pm – 8:00pm

Agenda: Thin film plastic bag ordinance

Newburyport City Hall
60 Pleasant St
Newburyport, MA 01950

If you would like to contact the City Councilors and Cc Mayor Donna Holaday, the contact information is below.

Thomas O’Brien – President and Ward 6
thomasobrien11@aol.com

Allison Heartquist – Ward 1
heartquist@gmail.com

Jared Eigerman  – Ward 2
jaredeigerman@yahoo.com

Robert Cronin – Ward 3
croninward3@gmail.com

Charles Tontar – Ward 4
ctontar@comcast.net

Larry Giunta – Ward 5
larrygiunta12@gmail.com

Ed Cameron – Councilor At-Large
edcameronnbpt@gmail.com

Barry Connell – Councilor At-Large
envirocom@comcast.net

Ari Herzog – Councilor At-Large
ariherzog@gmail.com

Meghan Kinsey – Councilor At-Large
meghankinsey@gmail.com

Bruce Vogel – Councilor At-Large
bruce@vogelatlarge.com

Cc Mayor Donna Holaday
mayor@cityofnewburyport.com

Detailed contact information with addresses and phone numbers for the 11 city councilors can be found here.

The Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance – A Newburyport Progressive Political Overreach

OverReachForgive me, but here I go again.

What I see in the Ban Plastic Bags Ordinance, as it is now written and as it has been presented (see 2 earlier posts here and here), is “progressives” overreaching and making the same mistake they made in the 2008-2009 council.

People may not remember that the City Council passed the Wind Turbine through fast, very fast, and it passed with an 11-0 vote.  After the Wind Turbine went up, and there was such an incredible backlash, and people saw the effects that it had on real peoples’ lives, I can’t tell you how many councilors said to me, “What did we do?” and wished there hadn’t been such a rush to judgement. And I’m pretty sure, at that point, the vote would have been pretty close to 11-0 against.

I had hoped that this was one of the most level headed city councils ever. It got off to a good start by being careful, thoughtful and inclusive in its approach to protecting downtown (our brand), and our historic buildings (a whole other post).  (The Planning Board has not made its final recommendation yet, and the City Council has not yet voted–the process is still ongoing.) That governing template and process resulted in a bucketload of good will and trust in our city council.

This overreach, in my mind, is a legislative setback and now an “old school” approach.  And I could imagine exactly how it happened. The Citizens for Sustainable Bagging have been working towards the goal of banning “single use, thin filmed” plastic bags (the ones at Shaws and Market Basket) for 2 years, and they have supporters on the council, which is perfectly natural.  And what most probably happened, was the thought, “We have a progressive city council, finally, and we can now get our agenda (in this case it happens to be an ultra-progressive one) passed.”

Please don’t go there, don’t go that route.  If this passes, as is, without a more moderate approach, what will happen is “conservative” candidates will run in the next City Council election, on a moderate restoration of plastic bags, and you have no idea–they will get so many votes. And if the ordinance, as written, is not made more moderate, that bucketload of trust that this Newburyport City Council has right at the get-go, will be eroded so, so, so very quickly.

ConCom-PBags

Letter from ConCom, press image to enlarge.

Editor’s Note:  I have in front of me a letter to the City Council, on city stationary, from the Conservation Commission, that “does not endorse the complete ban on plastic bags at this time,” but supports “a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment.”  (To read the entire letter, please press the image to the left to enlarge.) Seems fair to me.

Second Editor’s Note: The ConCom minutes of August 6, 2013 which are referenced in the letter above can be read here.

“Discussion of Proposed Plastic Bag Ordinance

Sheila Taintor of the Citizens for Sustainable Bagging discussed the ordinance to ban plastic bags that the group intends to put before the City Council. She asked the Commission members to support the draft ordinance. Members commented that they wish to have more details about the way in which the ban would work and how the ban has been implemented in other communities.

They said that while the plastic bags greatly impact the environment they might favor voluntary compliance or an incentive program over a ban. Paul Healy moved that a letter be sent to the City Council stating that while the Commission does not endorse the ban, it would support a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment. Steve Moore seconded the motion. The motion was approved with Dan Warchol voted in opposition. Julia Godtfredsen will draft a letter for approval at the next meeting.” From ConCom minutes August 6, 2013 which can be read here.

Third Editor’s Note:  This is the complete last paragraph in the letter above to the Newburyport City Council from the Conservation Commission:

“While the Conservation Commission does not endorse the complete ban on plastic bags at this time (due to lack of information on how it has been successfully conducted in other similar municipalities), we would support a reasonable and practical effort to minimize the use of plastic bags, as a reduction in their use would have a positive impact on the environment.”

The Ban the Plastic Bag Ordinance – An Unfortunate Guide for Governing

plasticBag-2

I had two emotions watching last night Newburyport City Council during the public comment period (this is where the public can express their opinion to the City Council before the Council gets down to business).

On the one hand, I was enormously impressed that the young people in our community want to and are learning how, at an early age, to become involved in the “civic” process, and speak so eloquently, and at times passionately about an issue that they believe in. Would that so many other residence in Newburyport become involved in our the process of our city government in the same way.

On the other hand, it makes it very difficult for someone like me, who would like a more measured approach to this particular subject, the issue of banning plastic bags, to speak up and ask for a more moderate approach, without sounding like a complete douche bag (a contemptible and despicable person).

And the other thing, not to repeat myself, but to repeat myself, is that the proposed ordinance to ban plastic bags had seven sponsors.  It is my understanding that when asked to sponsor the ordinance, at least some sponsors were under the impression that they were the second sponsor (which would be the norm), and that it wasn’t until they saw the actually ordinance, as it was presented, that they understood that they were, unwittingly, part of the “gang of seven.”

I think that this is an unwise template for the democratic process on any level, and in this particular case the municipal level. I am glad that eventually a city councilor asked for the Ban the Plastic Bag Ordinance to go to a “Committee as a Whole” (which means that legally all the councilors can discuss the issue together).  And I hope that folks like me, who have a lighter green approach to life, have an opportunity to be “heard” and taken seriously, and not shunned, because on this matter, we have a different point of view on how to address this particular issue.

Proposed Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance — An Unwise Approach

plasticBagI don’t know how to write this post without sounding like a real “bitch.”

There is a proposed ordinance (piece of legislation) that is coming before the Newburyport City Council on Monday night, March 17, 2014, to ban the use of “single use, thin filmed plastic bags,” i.e. the plastic bags one gets at Market Basket and Shaws.

The first, very first thing that I have a problem with in this ordinance, promoted by Newburyport’s Citizens for Sustainable Bagging, and originally championed by City Councilor Barry Connell, is that it has 7 sponsors. (There are 11 members of the Newburyport City Council, and it takes 8 members to pass a piece of legislation.)

I’ve never seen this before. In my experience ordinances are usually sponsored by at most 2 city councilors.

It strikes me that for a proposed ordinance to have 7 sponsors, that it stifles debate, and undermines the democratic process, which to me is unwise. And comes across as manipulative, with the intent of ramming a particular piece of legislation through our city government, without proper input and feedback from the public. To say that I’m disappointed by this approach, when there has been a template for a truly thoughtful way of governance, with the process of the recent proposed zoning amendments (which has been called “brilliant”), is an understatement (the process of the proposed zoning amendments–a whole other post). “Brilliant,” this process of banning plastic bags, it is not.

The ordinance, as now written, has a punitive approach, which in my mind, if pursued, could cause tremendous resentment and a backlash for Newburyport’s Green Community, which has worked very hard over the last decade, led, with tremendous grace, by our Recycling and Energy Coordinator, Molly Ettenborough.

Backlash and resentment against Newburyport’s Green Community is nothing new.  Both the wind turbine, and the effort to turn off all of Newburyport’s street lights, did not win Newburyport’s Green Community a whole lot of friends. Not a good rerun.

And, if one looks back to the City Council of 2008-2009, it was one of the most liberal councils that I have seen.  A fairly robust liberal agenda was pursued, and a major backlash was the result. I would hate to see this council go down that particular road again, especially, when such a thoughtful governing template has already been demonstrated, with the proposed zoning ordinance process.  I’d be concerned with self-destruction a 2nd time. One would hope that history is something to be learned from.

And I think that there are councilors who would suggest a more incentivized approach to this issue, instead of a punitive one.  This might not please the Citizens for Sustainable Bagging.  However, such an approach could avoid a backlash, and make it a whole lot easier for the Newburyport’s Green Community to achieve its long term goals.

New Newburyport City Council Committees

The Newburyport City Council has very important committees where the difficult work of the City Council gets done. The president of the Newburyport City Council appoints the people on the committees.  For 2014 the Newburyport City Council committees are as follows:

Budget and Finance:
Chair-Charles Tontar, Ed Cameron, Robert Cronin

Planning and Development:
Chair-Ed Cameron, Barry Connell, Jared Eigerman

Neighborhoods and City Services:
Chair-Barry Connell, Ari Herzog, Meghan Kinsey

License and Permits:
Chair-Allison Heartquist, Bruce Vogel, Meghan Kinsey

Joint Education:
Chair-Meghan Kinsey, Allison Heartquist, Larry Giunta

Public Utilities:
Chair-Ari Herzog, Jared Eigerman, Bruce Vogel.

Public Safety:
Chair-Robert Cronin, Larry Giunta, Charles Tontar

General Government:
Tom O’Brien, Bruce Vogel, Mayor Donna Holaday

Rules:
Chair-Robert Cronin, Larry Giunta, Tom O’Brien

Newburyport Election 2013, Mayoral and Council Debates

On Tuesday November 5th, the residents of Newburyport will go to the polls to elect a Mayor (for a 4 year term, not a 2 year term), 5 Newburyport City Councilors At-Large, 5 Ward Councilors and 3 members of the School Committee.

Here are links to the Mayoral Debate between Mayor Donna Holaday and City Councilor Dick Sullivan on October 22, 2013 and the Newburyport City Council At-Large Debate on October 16, 2013.

The Mayoral Debate

The Mayoral Debate

The Mayoral Debate between Mayor Donna Holaday and City Councilor Dick Sullivan on October 22, 2013 can be watched here.

The Newburyport City Council At-Large Debate

The Newburyport City Council At-Large Debate

The Newburyport City Council At-Large Debate on October 16, 2013 can be seen here.

Comparison of the NRA Waterfront Plans

A comparison of the NRA Waterfront plans.

First Draft – September 2012, Second Draft – June 2013.

A comparison of the NRA Waterfront plans. (Press image to enlarge.)

A comparison of the NRA Waterfront plans. (Press image to enlarge.)

Citizens for an Open Waterfront’s (COW) alternative plan – April 2013 (flipped vertically so that it is easier to compare to the proposed NRA plan).

Citizen's for an Open Waterfront's (COW) alternative plan

Citizens for an Open Waterfront's (COW) alternative plan

We Didn’t Have the Green Thing Back Then

I pissed off a lot of people with the “Please Leave My Plastic Bags Alone” post.  I was even asked not to write anything more about the subject (democracy, free speech anyone??), so, at least for now, technically I won’t.

This has been making the rounds on the internet for months and months and months (the source unfortunately is unknown – wish I knew!!), so if you haven’t seen it…

We Didn’t Have the Green Thing Back Then

“Checking out at the store, the young cashier suggested to the older woman, that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.

The woman apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.” The young clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.”

She was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Milk Bottles, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Milk Bottles, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over. So they really were truly recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Grocery stores bagged our groceries in brown paper bags, that we reused for numerous things, most memorable besides household garbage bags, was the use of brown paper bags as book covers for our schoolbooks. This was to ensure that public property, (the books provided for our use by the school) was not defaced by our scribblings. Then we were able to personalize our books on the brown paper bags. But too bad we didn’t do the green thing back then.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throwaway kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy-gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 23,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest burger joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?”

Please Leave My Plastic Bags Alone

There is stuff afoot that would have our Newburyport City Government pass legislation banning plastic bags.  I’m not for this.

Yesterday I emailed the Mayor and the Newburyport City Councilors.  The email was pretty simple:

“Dear Mayor Holaday and Newburyport City Councilors,

Please leave my plastic bags alone.  I recycle and reuse faithfully. (And I fully understand the arguments for this anti-platic bag piece of potential legislation.)  (I also don’t like being lectured to, in places like the supermarket, by folks who feel differently than I do.)”

I also sent in the questionnaire, basically about how I would like legislation passed banning plastic bags, that came with the recent recycling information.  Since there was nothing about recycling and reusing plastic bags, I crossed the entire questionnaire out with a big  X and wrote, “Please leave my plastic bags alone.”  I think I also wrote something about being displeased about being lectured to at the supermarket.

So far I’ve been polite when being lectured to at the supermarket, because I think, “Is it worth alienating this acquaintance who I like very much?”  But since they are alienating moi, next time, I may very well lose it.

And I thought I was alone in my dislike of this potential piece of legislation, but apparently not so.  I’ve been surprised how many folks feel the same way I do. So if you are one of those folks, and are feeling energetic, you can find the information on the City of Newburyport’s website on how to contact the Mayor and the Newburyport City Council.

The City’s website is here.http://www.cityofnewburyport.com/

Email information for the City Councilors is here:http://www.cityofnewburyport.com/Clerk/WEB/pages/city_council.html

The information on how to contact the Mayor is here: http://www.cityofnewburyport.com/mayor.html

Recycling plastic bags

Recycling plastic bags

Now that I’ve written this, I may now get lectured to on the street.  I hope not.  And for those who may feel tempted, education, yes, lecture – no, and even require information on the plastic bags themselves about not letting them float away into the environment, but recycle and reuse.

The container to recycle plastic bags can be found at your grocery store.

Baby It’s Cold Outside and Cafe au Lait

Pretty fancy, huh, “Cafe au Lait?”  But really, cafe au lait.

Snowblower

Snowblower

So today we actually get snow. I feel we are blessed, because at least at my house, there is only the 3 of the 5 inches promised, and my wonderful neighbor appears in my driveway with their snowblower.  I have named this wonderful beast (the snowblower, not my neighbor), “Horatio Horn Blower.”  Neither my neighbors nor Horatio seem to mind the moniker.  I was told last night that Horatio, waiting patiently in the shed all summer, was in very good spirits, and in working order. This made me happy.

However, even with Horatio’s heroic undertakings “vis-a-vis” (getting very “european” today) my driveway, there is still shoveling to be done.  And I am glad that it is only 3 inches, because I am not in winter shoveling shape.

I come in out of not being in snow shoveling shape, after an hour or so of cleaning up my dwelling, from snow and ice, with my trusty, at least, 10 year old, ground down, well loved, in need of a replacement, snow shovel.

And I’m starving and want something warm and yummy to drink, but have no hot cocoa in the house, and do not want to go out in search of any.

One cup coffee maker

One cup coffee maker

And my mind wanders back to my mother, and a trip she and my father took me on to France at the impressionable age of somewhere around 14.  I vaguely remember drinking something warm and yummy and very grownup, at the time, called “Cafe au Lait.”

And I bless the World Wide Web and its recipe making capabilities.

I get out my way older than my ancient shovel, one person Melitta one cup coffee brewer, make a strong half cup of coffee with cinnamon and nutmeg added to the grounds (feeling very creative here), fill the rest with milk and a little vanilla extract, and nuke the whole thing in the microwave.

coffee or in this case "Cafe au Lait"

coffee or in this case "Cafe au Lait"

My mother and father’s sprits seem to fill the room, as if I am suddenly 14 and in France with them again, and it is a good feeling, plus my spur of the moment cafe au lait tastes awesome.

And then on the World Wide Web, I find a year’s wrap-up by one of my favorite writers, Dave Barry.  It is good to laugh and to have things put into perspective, drink cafe au lait with such fond memories of my Mom and Dad.  And Dave Barry’s awesome year end “wrap-up” can be found here.  (I’m thinking that “WHAP” may make its way to the Newburyport Blog – you gotta read Dave Barry.)

Newburyport Carpetbaggers, the 95%

Carpetbagger

Carpetbagger

One Newburyport City Councilor (Dick Sullivan) got up in the Newburyport City Council chambers and lamented that all these “newcomers” were coming in and telling the folks who were born and raised here what to do.

Another Newburyport City Councilor (Tom Jones) got up (Thursday night) and said how Newburyport was a working class town, and seemed to intimate that it was still a working class town.  No it’s not. In the year 2012, Newburyport is an upper-middle class city, quickly approaching a upper class enclave – especially when Mr. Karp starts building.

Honey, it ain’t your father’s Newburyport anymore.

If you haven’t noticed the carpetbagger thing has really, really gotten out of hand lately.  You don’t just have the carpetbaggers who came in the first wave, in the mid to late 1970′s and very early 1980′s,  right after Urban Renewal renewed.  There was a wave in the late 1990′s after the MBTA came back to town. Remember that, a big housing spike when a lot of the old timers cashed in.  I remember folks saying  that it was a joke that anyone would want to live in Newburyport’s South End. There was a lot of bitterness about how high the taxes had gotten because of the housing boom, but that money bought more house not so far away, in a place where there weren’t so many doctors, lawyers and financial folks. Where the working class folks felt more comfortable.

And then the super duper influx around 2005, when Mr. Karp bought so much land and real-estate downtown.  Yup, and people have just kept coming, with more and more money, lots more money.  And the old-timers, the natives, they pay attention and they vote, but their numbers just ain’t what they used to be.  It’s not your father’s Newburyport by any stretch of the imagination, no how, no way, any more.

Walking with Dogs in the Greater Newburyport Area

First it was learning about the Happy Chickens blog, and now learning about a blog about dogs – “Walking with Dogs in Greater Newburyport, (off leash experiences in the Newburyport area),” by Kim Kudym.  Kim’s blog is an an exploration of the area’s gorgeous places that can be shared with a canine friend. How fun!

Indian Hill Reservoir in West Newbury, courtesy of Kim Kudym

Indian Hill Reservoir in West Newbury, courtesy of Kim Kudym, press image to enlarge

And how fun not only for dog owners, but anyone who would like to explore the area, with dogs, children, family, friends or just on your own.  Very cool!

Woodsom Farm in Amesbury, courtesy of Kim Kudym

Woodsom Farm in Amesbury, courtesy of Kim Kudym, press image to enlarge

Kim has started to post photos of outings in various places. Woodsom Farm in Amesbury, and Indian Hill Reservoir in West Newbury – and they just want to make you go out there and start exploring!!  There are also many Newburyport favorites including Cooper North Pasture and the Little River Nature Trail Newburyport, to name a few.

Woodsom Farm in Amesbury, courtesy of Kim Kudym

Woodsom Farm in Amesbury, courtesy of Kim Kudym, press image to enlarge

A great addition to the Newburyport blogosphere!!  Thanks Kim!!

Newburyport Redevelopment Authority, the NRA’s New Plan

A friend and I were talking yesterday, and they asked me what did I think of the new NRA’s proposal for Newburyport’s waterfront.

And I said, “I don’t know.”

And they said, “I don’t know.”

We’ve both lived in Newburyport for over 30 years and watched the ongoing NRA waterfront saga.

We both agreed that for the “Citizens for an Open Waterfront” (COWs as they have often been referred to over the many, many decades that this has gone on) having an open waterfront is a religion.  And there are many, many folks in town that I know, like and respect very much, that feel fervently that nothing ever should be built on that piece of property.

Mayor Holaday was elected some 3 years ago over James Shanley in part because she was for an “Open Waterfront.”  She won, and I thought at the time, Ok we can finally get on with that idea.

But the “new” idea proposed by then candidate James Shanley (now chair of the NRA, appointed by governor Deval Partrick), of having limited building on the NRA parcel to pay for the open space has gained, yup, traction.

I got out the old photo I have courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, or as it’s known in Newburyport as “The HIST,” of the NRA lots, c 1920, way before Newburyport’s Urban Renewal took place (click image below to enlarge), and there is no open space at all in what once existed before the bulldozers came in the late 1960s.

NRA land c. 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press to enlarge.

NRA land c. 1920, courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Newbury, press image to enlarge.

And my friend and I compared it to the new proposal by the NRA (click image below to enlarge), and we both agreed that there was a fair amount of open space, and that it looked reasonable.

NRA plans, 2012, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

NRA plans, 2012, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

NRA plans, 2012, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

NRA site plan, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.

NRA site plan, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.

NRA site plan, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

I guess the question now is, “What is considered open space on Newburyport’s waterfront’s NRA lots?”  Lots and lots of open space, or open space, but less open space, with a plan to pay for it (and a park would be wicked expensive).

And for me, will this NRA saga finally be resolved, which I would like a lot, or will it never be resolved in my lifetime, and continue to be a Newburyport political third rail? Hang on to your hats, we’ll find out.

A couple of more images, courtesy of the NRA, for clarification:

NRA lots, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge

NRA lots, aerial view, courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge

An aerial view of the NRA lots as they are today, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.

Boundaries of the NRA land, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.

Boundaries of the NRA land, courtesy of the NRA. Press image to enlarge.

Delineation of the property boundaries, of the NRA, the Waterfront Trust and the Ways to the Water as well as an approximate low water mark.  Courtesy of the NRA, press image to enlarge.

To see the entire presentation of the new plans for the NRA lots, given at the Firehouse on September 12, 2012, press here (takes a while to load).

George is Grinning and Orren Fox

George

George

George is grinning, huge wide smile, and those of you who have been readers of the Newburyport Blog for any length of time know that George is usually a glum sort of fellow, even with his passionate romance to Georgiana Tadpole (if you really would like to know about any of this frog stuff please press here).

Instead of telling the readers of the Newburyport Blog what is making George smile so hugely right off the bat (although he’s not smiling in the picture, I couldn’t get one of him smiling), I’m going to start at the beginning.

Way, way back (“in the day,” I’m not sure if it’s that far back) in 1990 I painted a whole bunch of paintings for a major New York show, oil on panel, and the panels warped (I used the wrong kind of panel – never did it again).  Panic city, you betcha.  I went to what was then Wendover Woodworks on Liberty Street in Newburyport, and one of the owners, Andy Willemsem saved my sorry soul by making some absolutely gorgeous frames that solved the warping problem and saved yours truly.  It was then I met Andy’s partner in this wonder furniture creating place, Henry Fox.

About 15 years ago, wandering around my Newburyport neighborhood, I ran into Henry Fox, who told me the harrowing tale of his son, born 3 months early with a host of medical problems who had been saved by the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at MassGeneral in Boston, and had just been moved to one of the more local hospitals.  I later shared this story with other families who had critically ill new borns, including my most wonderful neighbors, who found themselves and their newborn son also at MassGeneral. (The young man is now happily running around our neighborhood.)

Andy Willemsen moved on and Henry Fox named his wonderful furniture business after his two sons, “Fox Brothers.” (Still there on Liberty Street in Newburyport, still amazing.)

Fast forward to 2012, yesterday, a “new” or “new” to me, George and I being 5 years late to the story (not quite as bad as my late arrival to the David Sedaris planet, see earlier post, but not so good)  local Newburyport blog called “Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs,” by a fifteen year old young man called Orren Fox.

I’m thinking Fox?? Fox?? Henry Fox?? The timing’s right.

And sure enough this blog is written by Henry’s son Orren, the one in intensive care 15 years ago.  How cool is that, but it gets so much better.

Scrolling down the blog’s sidebar the young man has been interviewed/written up by the Huffington Post, NPR, Yankee Magazine, the Boston Globe to name a few, and has been to the White House, March 7, 2012,  for “Know Your Farmer Event.”

I’m beginning to join George in grinning from ear to ear about this young chicken farmer and organic food activist.

“Margaret Mead would have loved Orren.  A soulful and gifted young man who has done more to help make a positive impact by 15 than most folks do in a lifetime.” From Do Lectures.

And Orren has added bees, in “Bee Happy” – check it out here.

AND Orren has serendipitly gone into business with his brother Will (with a little help from Dad) making “FoxBoys” longboards, skateboards in the most glorious shape, a little like a boat, read and see all about them here.

And Orren Fox is so media savvy as to make grown “social media” folks weep – along with the Happy Chickens blog there are the Facebook pages that one actually enjoys looking at and reading, and twitter accounts.  But it may be in the blood because his Mom, who gave birth to him all those many 15 years ago, is Libby Delana, the founding partner of Newburyport’s Mechanica, the next generation branding firm.

So if you are discouraged by the news or local or federal politics, life in general, go investigate Orren Fox, a young man who transcends the sustainable movement.  It doesn’t matter if you are dark “green,” light “green,” in-between or orange; right wing, left wing, moderate or independent.  When you read about this fantastic story, you like George, will be grinning from ear to ear and doing a dance in the end zone of your choice.

Kathleen O’Connor Ives Running for State Senate

Kathleen O'Connor Ives for State Senate

Kathleen O'Connor Ives for State Senate

On September 4, 2007, I met then candidate for Newburyport City Council at Large, Kathleen O’Connor Ives (Katy).

I found Katy to be delightful, smart, gutsy and energetic, someone who could be a real asset to Newburyport. But being a newcomer to Newburyport, I really and truly did not think she had a prayer in the upcoming elections.

It’s pretty gutsy to come into town and decide to get that involved in your new place of residence–to run for Newburyport City Councilor at Large.

And that she most probably didn’t stand a chance, but was running anyway, and against some pretty steep competition–a very accomplished incumbent and two former mayors no less.

That said a whole lot about Katy Ives.

And as I walked and talked around Newburyport, what I found was that everyone, once they had met Kathleen O’Connor Ives, wanted to see her on the Newburyport City Council (really, I’m not kidding).

And that’s no small accomplishment.

At first it was the more progressive folks and centrist folks that seemed to take a shine to Ms. Ives.

However, when I started to talk to more conservative folks, they had the same reaction. They liked her too.

And somehow Katy was overcoming the old Yankee suspicion about anyone “new,” combined with the old Yankee attitude of “you pay your dues.”

And Katy proved me wrong. She won. And Kathleen O’Connor Ives has turned out to be the Newburyport Councilor at Large everyone hoped she would be, winning two more terms handily for Newburyport City Councilor at Large.

Sound familiar.

Yup, Kathleen O’Connor Ives is now running for Massachusetts State Senate for the First Essex District. And as one of her supporters said, “In an old boy, old boy world, Katy may not be the most connected candidate, but she’s the smartest.”

And do not count Kathleen O’Connor Ives out in this election for Massachusetts State Senate on Thursday, September 6th. Once her voting constituency meets Katy Ives, they will have the same reaction that the people of Newburyport did in 2007, 2009 and 20011. And they will know she would be terrific as their state senator, and they will vote for Kathleen O’Connor Ives on Thursday, September 6, 2012.

Kathleen O'Conner Ives for State Senate

Kathleen O'Connor Ives for State Senate

Katy’s website can be found here.

Katy’s Facebook page can be found here.