Cities, towns move forward with plastic bag bans

boston cambridge plastic bag shopper plastic bags
Cambridge is considering a ban on certain plastic bags, but lawmakers and city leaders believe a statewide ban would be better.
Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki, Metro

Brookline has banned them. Cambridge is moving toward forbidding them. And Marblehead voters will decide this spring whether or not to banish them from the town. 

While a law on a statewide ban of certain plastic bags sits in a State House committee, more and more communities are moving forward to ban the bags on their own.

However, municipal leaders said they prefer a statewide ban be enacted to make it easier on retailers, consumers and municipalities.

“It’s not ideal to have individual communities regulate things like this,” said Cambridge Mayor David Maher. A city council committee there is working to schedule another public meeting on the plastic bag ban before a final vote before the city council.

Former Cambridge city councilor and current state Rep. Marjorie Decker proposed the city ban. She said she’s hopeful fellow state lawmakers will realize it’s time to pass one.

“This is the train that’s already left and it just makes sense,” Decker said. “It makes sense to have the same rules and same expectations across every community.”

Decker’s colleague, state Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead, proposed a statewide ban that merged with another bill that now sits in the House Ways and Means committee. She said her bill had 30 cosponsors. It has been in Ways and Means since April.

“The one thing there is a need for is statewide action because what happens is you end up with sort of a patchwork quilt with different regulations and different approaches,” she said.

While Hawaii has a de-facto statewide ban, so far no state in the country has passed a ban on plastic bags.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts has opposed a statewide effort to ban plastic bags and called local-level bans a “compliance nightmare” for its members.

“We really think restricting consumer choice is not the way to go,” said Bill Rennie, the association’s vice president, who added that banning less expensive plastic bags would increase the cost to the retailer and eventually onto the consumer.

He said using a ban to get at the problem of plastic bags is misdirected.

“It’s not the plastic bag’s fault that it ends up thrown away in the street as litter. That’s sort of a societal problem,” he said.

In Brookline, where a ban on certain plastic bags went into effect late last year, businesses seem to be dealing well, said a town official.

“It has gone more smoothly than I anticipated,” said Alan Balsam, Brookline’s director of public health and human services.

Balsam said that of the 75 Brookline businesses impacted by the ban, he has only had to grant six waivers to give those establishments more time to comply. Other businesses have been making it work, he said.

“This is the wave of the future and I think businesses are getting on board with it,” he said.

Follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.


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