Category Archives: Community

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.

Ed Cameron is Running for State Rep

Our Newburyport City Councilor Ed Cameron has announced that he will be running for State Rep to fill Michael Costello’s seat (Mike Costello will not be running for reelection in November).

This email arrived this morning:

Dear Friend,

As you probably know, State Representative Mike Costello announced this past Wednesday that he will not be running for reelection to the First Essex District this November.

I am announcing that I will be a candidate for this House seat.

Thursday’s article in the Daily News linked here provide a great summary of what Mike has meant to the district. The article can be read here.

Mike has been a true champion on issues for Amesbury, Newburyport, and Salisbury.

He has been instrumental in providing State support for bridges, roundabouts, beaches, boardwalks, rail trails, and other important elements that make our communities strong.

I can do a good job representing the citizens of these three communities.

My experience as a Newburyport City Councillor has given me an understanding of where State government needs to do better to sustain local communities, particularly with general local aid, Chapter 70 educational aid, and Chapter 90 transportation funds for local street and sidewalk improvements.

My experience in the nonprofit sector has given me an understanding of how challenging it can be for families to raise and educate their children, find housing they can afford, and get to work on inadequate highways, trains and buses.

Mike has been a strong advocate for us and we’re very fortunate to have Senator Katy O’Connor-Ives represent us in the State Senate.

I want to earn your vote over the next several months. And I do ask for your support. More importantly I respectfully ask for your input on what issues are important to you.

You can click on this link to give me your ideas. The link is here.

I will make a formal announcement in the next few days and begin to collect signatures over the next few weeks. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions or want to help.

Thank you,

Ed Cameron
978-518-0786
edcameronNBPT@gmail.com

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.

Newburyport’s Waterfront did have Buildings

Newburyport's Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Newburyport’s Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself.  I will read statements here and there from folks who desperately would like to keep Newburyport’s waterfront open, and the remarks go something like this, “Well, there never were any buildings on the Waterfront.”  Really, I hear this, sometimes, sometimes often.

Actually, that is not true. Not true at all.  And in this weeks Newburyport Daily News, John Macone wrote a fascinating history of the Waterfront, for Newburyport’s 250th anniversary.

Newburyport's Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

Newburyport’s Waterfront, courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library

“This was a crowded, loud, dirty, busy, smelly, bawdy and in later years a somewhat dangerous place, thick with buildings perched on wharves that stretched far out into the Merrimack River. Vessels came and went from ports all over the world, and the riverside rang loud with the clang and bang of shipbuilding yards that lined the shore…”

The Waterfront c1920, courtesy of The Historical Society of Old Newbury

The Waterfront c1920, courtesy of The Historical Society of Old Newbury

And John Macone ends the piece by saying, “Newburyport’s great ship captains of the 18th and 19th century would find today’s central waterfront unrecognizable — too quiet, too neat, too big, and too open.”

You can read the entire article here, along with some fascinating photographs.

Newburyport Tells its Own Past

Photo courtesy of the Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library

Market Square, Photo courtesy of the Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library

This is one of my favorite quotes. And I love this photo of Market Square, which is courtesy of the Archival Center at the Newburyport Public Library.

“There can be no significance without memory…And if memory is necessary for significance, it is also necessary for both meaning and value. Without memory nothing has significance, nothing has meaning, nothing has value…

The city tells it own past, transfers its own memory…and it is memory that makes places significant.”

Donovan D. Rypkema, writing about the historic buildings in Newburyport, Massachusett

New Archival Center Link for Historic Photos at The Newburyport Public Library

Historic Photograph

High Street at Summer and Winter Streets Courtesy of the Archival Center at The Newburyport Public Library

There is now a new link to the historic photographs at The Newburyport Public Library Archival Center.  It can be found here.  If you download the photograph please give the Archival Center credit.  Thank you.

(It is one of my pet peeves that people download photographs from The Newburyport Blog and repost them elsewhere, without saying where they come from.)

New Digital Images–A Traditional Painter Aims for the 21st Century

Digital Painting, Plum Island Spring, Mary Baker © 2014

Plum Island Spring, Mary Baker © 2014

Jeff Ives, the husband of Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives, did the nicest thing.  He put the first four images of the new digital body of work by yours truly, up on Tumblr. I was very moved.

Way, way, way back in December 2012 I wondered out loud on The Newburyport Blog, if traditional painting was going the way of the buggy whip and the typewriter. And way back then, I decided to learn “digital stuff,” and have come up with, what I hope, is the first 4 images of a new digital body of work.

Although The Newburyport Blog got a recent mobile device friendly facelift, my traditional art website languishes in a less well coded world, soon, one day, to be updated with the new digital images.

For the moment, this new art foray into the 21st century, by moi, a traditional painter for so many decades, I don’t even want to say, is on Facebook, and the new images as they get created can, for the moment, be found on the “New Work “Album here (and if you would “Like” the Facebook page here that would be most awesome!!).

Editor’s Note:  My apologies, my hosting server redirected the blog to another place, it has now been corrected.  Thank you so much for your patience.

Chopping Ice on Winter Newburyport Sidewalks

Kettle for melting ice

Kettle for melting ice

This weekend as I went for a blissful 2 hour walk, in my beloved South End neighborhood, during the brief 40 degree “thaw,” it seemed as if every other homeowner was chop, chop, chopping the ice on their driveway or sidewalk.

And today, bundle up Mary, the chilly weather, going down into the single digits this week, has returned as if as an early April Fool’s Day joke, but at the end of February, the beginning of March.

And as I talk and walk, no salt to be had anywhere, at the moment, to help break up that slippery, pesky, now multi-inches of ice.

Bundle up for winter (day glow orange hunting hat)

Bundle up for winter (day glow orange hunting hat)

My tip (I also use it to strategically get rid of dandelions in the summer months). I go out, very, very carefully (please, no slipping with boiling water in hand!), with a hot kettle of boiling water, and put little dribbles of boiling water here and there (not too much otherwise it too, turns into ice!), and gradually, especially if you’re completely obsessive about it, it breaks up the ice enough to get that chop, chop, chopping of Newburyport winter ice to actually get chopped into pieces.

Peeps, My Bad and a Rubber Chicken

I was going to call this post, “The Mayor is Scary,” but then I decided against it, more fun with the weird title (and part of the title will actually make sense).

I went for a walk a few weeks ago and ran into an old, old acquaintance, and during the conversation, a little out of nowhere, my old acquaintance said to me, “The mayor is scary.”

I can’t tell you, with multi-multiple variations on that particular theme, how many times I’ve heard that sentiment. And if you are a reader of the Newburyport Blog, you’ve either probably said it, or heard it too.

What came out of my mouth in response, (and I think I said this the very first time someone asked me about Donna Holaday, when she first ran for Newburyport City Council), Donna’s husband is a serious, at one time, a real big-time rock and roll (Wikipedia link here) guitar player/singer, who sings a song with a rubber chicken on his head (also in the Wikipedia link) — really. And Joe Holaday has to be one of the most grounded and kindest people I know.  How scary can someone be who’s married to someone who performs a rock and roll song with a rubber chicken on their head, who is also grounded and kind, be? (Unless funky rubber chickens frighten you.)

And this is a woman, who in a recent City Council meeting, gave a history, without notes, with lots of confusing detail, about the Plum Island Water and Sewer mess. Let me tell you, I was impressed.

This is also a woman who can be politically deaf. It is one of her shortcomings. I saw it when Mayor Holaday was a city councilor and I’ve seen it as mayor.  My own personal experience was when it looked like the City could save a bunch of money by turning off all the street lights (really and truly).  I was upset, especially when I got a hold of the list.  And when I made the list public on the Newburyport Blog, a lot of other people were upset too.

Could I tell that the mayor was a little dismayed with me? Yes. Did I take it personally? No.  And Mayor Holaday and the Energy Advisory Committee came up with one brilliant solution, it was a win-win-win solution (way, way too complicated to explain here, but you can sort of understand it, a little bit, here).

Do I disagree with the mayor on some stuff? Yes. Do I wish that Mayor Holaday put more emphasis on things that are my passion, like historic preservation?  Yes.  Do I think she’s perfect? No?  Do I think that she is a good mayor? You betcha.

And I do have an anecdote. I had worked on first “saving” High Street, when it was almost destroyed by MassDOT (then MassHighway) back in 1999 (my intro to local Newburyport politics), and I worked on a Master Plan for High Street for 6 years.  When, in a weird political hurricane, it was denied existence (it was eventually resurrected and sits in the Planning Office, somewhere), then City Councilor Donna Holaday was the only person who called me up, and she said how sorry she was, and how she appreciated all the years of work that I had helped put into the project. That’s something you don’t forget.  At least, that’s something I don’t forget. And that is the Donna Holaday I know.

New England Winters – Not for the Elegant

Fedora, Bow Tie and L.L. Bean**

Fedora, Bow Tie and L.L. Bean coat**

My father, an elegant and dapper New York gentleman, who wore fedoras and bow ties, came up to see my son in a play in Boston during an early, chilly New England spring. He looked at me and said, “You fit right in.”

I, in fact, was not dressed elegantly in any way. I was dressed for New England, which meant not in “stylish” shoes, but shoes that could walk through melting winter slush, and a warm, water-proof coat, not a fashionable, “flimsy” “cloth” sheathing.

And I remembered, why, growing up, I was always so cold in New York winters, when the wind howls through the tall caverns of New York City buildings, while New Yorkers waited in the elements for buses, shivered in subway stations, or hoped to hail a possibly elusive taxi cab. New Yorkers had (at least when I was growing up) no idea how to dress for winter. New Englanders do.

“Back in the day,” my family used to say people in Boston had no sense of style, that they were “tweedy” and “frumpy” (Ok, they had a few New York preconceptions).  Actually New Englanders are, when it comes to winter outerwear, very sensible, and not “foolish.” We like to be as warm and dry as possible — an example my father followed in his later years (it took him until he was in his late 70′s), when he shocked his “homies” and went for the comfy and warm L.L. Bean look, from L.L. Bean, and chuckled at his “peeps” (I did it!! see earlier entry!!) who looked dubiously at his new attire.

Day-Glow Orange Hunting Hat

Day-Glow Orange Hunting Hat

When I bundle up for Newburyport New England winters, I often think of my father. I’m not sure what he would think of the warm, day-glow orange hunting hat that my neighbor so graciously gave me, so that I wouldn’t be run over when I walk in the middle of the street on Newburyport snowy, difficult to plow the road days (see previous post). But the other day I saw someone walking on snowy High Street with a day-glow, orange, toasty hunting hat, just like mine, and I thought, “Damn, they look New England stylish.”

**My father in his 80′s, stylish in his fedora, bow tie and L.L. Bean coat — A collaborative work © Preston Heller and Mary Baker.

Driving Gertrude on Rt 95 – Chilly New England Winters

Driving Gurtrude

Driving Gertrude

I am a most lucky human being to live just a few blocks from historic downtown Newburyport. And not only that, but I get to work at home. My light “green” contribution, is that I walk, and rarely use my car, which, until recently, sat contentedly in my driveway, except for the 2+ mile drive up to Market Basket and the occasional jaunt here and there.

Then comes this particular winter, and the day after the 10 below zero evening –  not even a cough and a sputter (other people’s cars started!!), and a 4 (which actually turned into a 1) hour wait for AAA super-duper battery re-charge person to arrive.

In 2007 I decided to get the car I always wanted. Some folks want a Jaguar or a BMW, not moi.  My hankering was always for a PT Cruiser, I didn’t care that they had gone way out of fashion, or that the sales person called my car of choice a “PT Loser” (that car business went out of business soon thereafter), or that Chrysler looked like it was going to go down the tubes. I wanted my PT Cruiser, and by golly I got one.

After much thought and consideration, I named my PT Cruiser “Gertrude,” “Gertie” for short (“Blanche” was the runner up name-wise, but for whatever reason “Gertrude” stuck.)

So after the hoping that AAA shows up in 4 hours to recharge my car battery day, I go to Google to figure out why my battery died, and other cars in the neighborhood, of a similar age to Gertrude, started right up.  It seemed as if part of the problem was that Gertrude didn’t get a lot of drive time, me being “green,” and doing all that walking.  So in an experiment, I thought I would take Gertrude out for a drive a lot more often (and when I thought about it, I remembered one of my old mechanics telling me that on cold mornings to drive my car down to the “Lower Green” (you gotta live in Newburyport to know where that is) and back.

So Gertrude and I have set out almost every day for a ramble, to the Lower Green and back, to Governor Dummer and back, but what Gertrude seems to really, really like, is taking a stroll on Rt 95.

So when the Weather Channel has said that an overnight low is going to be below 10 degrees (which they have a lot this winter), I bundle up, put on my toasty purple scarf and my day-glow orange hunting hat (which my neighbor so graciously gave me so that I would not be run over in the street on cold winter, Newburyport difficult to plow the road, walking days), and Gertrude and I take off.

So if on a frosty mornings on my coffee break, if you want to know where Mary and Gertrude are, they are zipping up and down Rt 95 getting Gertrude warmed up to be able to start up again after the nippy night ahead.

P.S. For all those commuting home tonight, be careful, The Weather Channel is calling for yet more snow, 5-8 inches, which they say is choosing to fall at high volume during this evening’s commute.

Two Things I learned during Newburyport’s 2013 Election — And it’s not what you Think

I am a local political junkie. I just can’t help myself. And on the evening of the mayoral primary 0f 2013, I went down to Newburyport City Hall to hear the results.

I love going down to City Hall to hear the whatever election results. There is an excitement and buzz, and no matter what candidate or candidates one might be routing for, there is usually some kidding around and a sense of comraderie. It takes a lot of guts to run for any city office, and admiration for the folks who actually do run for office is palpable.

And then our wonderful City Clerk, Richard Jones, comes out, looking distinguished and dapper in his bow tie. And with a twinkly in his eye and some gravitas, he reads the election results, city ward by city ward (Newburyport has 6 wards), and everyone is scrambling to type the results into their laptops.

(And as a btw Richard Jones is one fantastic artist!! Really. What he is doing in Newburyport City Hall, except bringing a countenance of dignity and calm, beats me. And if you want to see his work, Richard Jones’s new painting hangs proudly in the lobby of Newburyport’s bank, The Institution for Savings, in its home bank branch on State Street. And you can go there and look at it it. I do. Richard Jones’s website can be found here.)

That evening, for the mayoral primary, the chit chat was that the vote was going to be split roughly in thirds, and it was just a matter of which two candidates had some more votes (which btw that is how it “fell.”). And while I was chit chatting with a fellow political junkie they said, “Dick Sullivan has his “peeps.” (Dick Sullivan came in second in the primary.) And I said to myself “peeps??” “Peeps” sounds like ghetto speak. My fellow political junkie is about my age, and I’m no “hip,” sprightly, spring chicken. “Peeps?” I must be really out of it. A new word — “peeps,” which I could never imagine myself effectively executing. “Peeps?”

And during the election cycle I was going to meet with one of the new candidates running for Newburyport City Council. Coffee and chit chat that day didn’t come about, and in apologizing for the miscommunication, the candidate used the phrase “my bad.” “My bad??” I’m thinking, “homies,” “rappers,” and urban ghetto speak?? “My bad??” Am I ever out of it. (I might be able to say, “my bad” one day — perhaps, but I’m not sure I could pull off “peeps.”)

So during the 2013 election I learned two new words/phrases, “peeps” and “my bad,” which might bring me further into the 21st Century, possibly. An etymology lesson during the Newburyport election of 2013, who knew??

Twitter — A Mea Culpa

Twitter, I owe you a mea culpa, i.e an apology.  Mea culpa rates as a much more serious atonement than “my bad,” for one thing it’s in Latin.

In February 2009 I wrote, “And I look at Twitter and for the most part, it verbally looks like a Google Earth close up of a mangled beaver swamp.” I was lamenting the loss of things like complete sentences–even paragraphs, possibly periods.

Oh, how far I have come… I’ve been tweeting away for some time now, with a complete disregard for complete sentences, and yes, sometimes even things like “verbs,” and you can just forget about “periods,” i.e. “.”.

My obscure Twitter handle — @MaryBakerArt.  I’ve fallen as low as to tweet things like “Blizzard in ‪#Newburyport‬ tomorrow afternoon and evening – Oy Veh ‪#Nbpt‬ ‪#Snow‬ ‪#blizzard” — notice, no verb. So versatile, I am with even beginning to master things such as the hashtag “#.”  21st Century here I come.

One of the things that I like about Twitter is that leading up to a potential blizzard, I can follow all sorts of meteorologist (my favorite one is @growingwisdom, I’m a sucker for the word “wisdom”). When whatever winter storm of the winter 2014 is over, I can then happily unfollow them.  Who is to know, who is to care.

If anyone wanted to know what Market Basket was like early this morning — “‪#Marketbasket‬ crowded but calm at 8:15 this morning in ‪#Newburyport‬ ‪#Nbpt‬ ‪#blizzard‬” — according to other tweets, it’s slightly more crowded at the moment (like can you find a parking space–a little like the afternoon of Christmas eve).