Many of the shoppers in downtown Vineyard Haven on Sunday sported the same bags. They hadn’t all been to the same shop, but had all stopped by the same booth. Tucked under the eaves of the Capawock theatre, Samantha Look, Signe Benjamin, Sophie Abrams and Nina Hitchen passed out two types of reusable bags to shoppers. They were there representing the Vineyard Conservation Society and spreading awareness about reusable bags as a ban on single use plastic bags is about to begin. Twenty-two businesses along Main street participated by offering BYO-baggers, a sweet treat or donating a dollar to Family to Family for every reusable bag used.

Five of the six Vineyard towns voted at their annual town meetings to ban single use plastic bags as well as require paper bags to be made of post-consumer material beginning on Jan. 1, 2017. Oak Bluffs was the only town that did not consider the ballot question after selectmen pulled it from the warrant. Aquinnah, Chilmark, Edgartown, Tisbury and West Tisbury voted for the ban by a strong majority. A statewide ban is under consideration. Currently over 40 towns in Massachusetts have a bag ban approved or pending approval.

The ban in the five Vineyard towns requires stores to offer only recyclable paper bags or reusable bags in their checkout lines. To qualify as reusable, a bag needs to have handles and be at least four one-thousandths of an inch thick.

Though many people think to bring their reusable bags to the grocery store, Ms. Look said that the ban also affects retail stores and restaurants serving to-go food. Ms. Look now has separate bags for food shopping and retail, keeping the onion skins away from less pungent purchases. She emphasized that the burden of a plastic bag ban should be shared by the consumers. “As a consumer we think of plastic bags as such an incidental thing,” she said. “It’s a big impact we could have. For consumers, it’s so possible once you get in the habit of it to bring a reusable bag.” Though VCS spearheaded the ban and drafted the legislation, it’s the town health agents that have been working with businesses to implement the ban.

In Edgartown, town health agent Matthew Poole said the transition will be gradual. Up to five businesses so far have been granted one year extensions to use up existing stock of non-compliant bags. Existing stock is a big issue, especially for smaller businesses that do not go through hundreds of bags a day and bought in bulk before the ban was suggested. Both Mr. Poole and VCS agree that using the non-compliant bags is a more economical and ecological choice than just throwing them away.

“There is absolutely good intention on everyone’s part, I haven’t run into any folks finding it impossible to comply,” Mr. Poole said. “I am aware that there’s some challenges and low level frustrations from merchants finding a substituted compliant product.”

Under the bylaws, paper bags offered by businesses must be 100 per cent recyclable and contain at least 40 per cent post-consumer recycled content (bags eight pounds and under must have at least 20 per cent). They must also be stamped with the word recyclable and the percentage of post-consumer recycled content.

From his observations, Mr. Poole said the start date for the ban may have arrived too quickly.

“It came quickly on heels of our busy period...I just think it might have been better to transition May 1; give them time to get rid of bags and have more of breather,” he said. “People are feeling like, whoa, here it is, January first.”

The Edgartown Board of Trade has been working with Mr. Poole to ease the transition for the business community. The board of trade represents 140 Edgartown businesses. President Sydney Mullen said while the businesses are trying to comply, the ban can have unexpected side effects.

“Sometimes bags are a big part of branding, so not having those bags walking around town can be difficult for businesses,” she said.

She also noticed a consensus in the business community that the plastic bags and paper bags should have been addressed separately.

“It feels different from retail perspective,” she said.

In Vineyard Haven no businesses have applied for an extension yet, though Menemsha Blues did call to ask what to do about 10,000 plastic bags, said town health agent Maura Valley.

“I told them they could apply for an extension,” she said. The business community has not been surprised by the upcoming ban, Ms. Valley added, though there have been some grumblings about the cost of stocking bags that meet the requirements of the ban. In the new year, Ms. Valley plans to do compliance checks and work with any businesses having difficultly meeting the new regulations.

“I’m hoping come January one there will be no more plastic bags,” she said. “But that’s wishful thinking.”

Sarah York, president of the Tisbury Business Association and general manager at CB Stark, said that none of the business association members have had issues with the upcoming ban.

“The reality is most of the stores here are already using bags that work,” she said. “For instance, for me all I needed to do was have [recyclable] printed on the bag. We were already there.”

Ms. Look has been coming to the meetings, providing information about bag providers that sell bags that meet the regulations, she said.

“VCS has been great at helping the businesses become compliant,” she said.

Ms. Look said VCS has also turned its attention to educating shoppers, including day trippers and weekend visitors.

“We have a huge population of people who move through the Island,” she said. “We have an incredible opportunity to show them what happens here and they say hey, I’m going to bring this home. Or, oh I could use a reusable bag for my retail shopping.”

Ideas like stocking reusable bags in rental houses, increasing awareness through pamphlets and hosting more bring-your-own-bag events in the summer are all being considered.

Though the transition so far has been smooth, no one expects all plastic bags in the participating towns to disappear on Jan. 1.

“If you walked around store to store to store, you won’t see every bag is perfect,” said Ms. Look.