Massachusetts is at the forefront of the movement to limit or ban thin plastic bags. More than 30 cities and towns across the state now restrict or ban thin plastic grocery bags. Brookline was among the first to act in 2012. Cambridge implemented a ban in March 2016 and Somerville’s ban went into effect on September 1. Beginning in 2018, grocery stores and retailers in Framingham will be banned from handing out single-use plastic bags at the checkout counter.
At the state level, the Senate passed a statewide ban in May 2016. The measure, however, did not pass the House. It is likely to be reintroduced in the next legislative session.
Why are so many Massachusetts towns restricting or limiting plastic bags? There is a lengthy list of serious problems with thin-film plastic bags: They contribute to litter, kill wildlife, and require fossil fuels to produce and distribute, and they threaten human health by introducing toxic substances to the food chain. Sponsors of Framingham’s new law cited compelling statistics. “As many as 34 million plastic bags are distributed in Framingham each year, and the average bag is used for only 12 minutes. The bags take hundreds of years to break down, and are never fully biodegradable,” according to resident Michael Croci. (Source: MetroWest Daily News) While plastic bags can be recycled, very few people actually recycle them: Only about 5% of plastic bags are recycled.
Nationally, thin-film plastic bags are banned or restricted in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC, and others.
The specifics of the laws vary by city. Some cities focus on the largest retailers who distribute the majority of plastic bags, and exempt smaller mom-and-pop stores. Other cities restrict thin-film plastic bags across all retailers. Development of single-use bag limits/bans is a collaborative process between residents, government, and the business community. Typically, residents and businesses have months of lead time to understand the specifics of the new laws and adapt. As more and more cities across the state implement bans, retailers are finding it easier to comply.
Plastic bag bans are very successful in reducing usage of plastic bags: Los Angeles, CA implemented a ban January 1, 2012. The city reported in December 2013 that the ordinance had resulted in large stores achieving a 90% reduction in single-use bag usage. ([Source: http://plasticbagbanreport.com/data-shows-plastic-bag-bans-work/)
One month after Newburyport implemented a bag ban, Jason Haberland, store manager at CVS on Pond Street, said most of their customers are adapting to the change. “There are a few people who have been surprised by the change, or people who miss the bags because they used them around their house or for their dog,” he said. “But most people are adapting. Actually, we’ve had many people who have said they don’t need a bag if they only have a couple items. So maybe it is causing people to actually use fewer bags, regardless of the material.” (Source: Newburyport News)
Locally, the Melrose Recycling Committee is raising awareness of the negative impacts of plastic bags (and all single use bags). Projects include community outreach to encourage residents to bring their own reusable shopping bags and to properly recycle plastic bags and other thin-film plastics. Outreach to businesses includes working with Shaw’s to call attention to their in-store plastic bag collection containers, and working with Walgreen’s to prevent unnecessary bagging of small purchases.
Interested in reducing plastic bag usage in Melrose? Here are three actions you can take today. First, bring your own shopping bags and stop using single-use bags. Second, contact your alderman to request the city of Melrose to enact a ban. Third, always recycle plastic bags and other thin-film plastics. Plastic bags and thin-film plastics should never go in your curbside bin; take them to Shaw’s, Whole Foods or other grocery stores, or to “big box” stores like Lowe’s and Target to recycle.