Multiple Environment Bills before Mass. Legislature

By George Stubbs

The Massachusetts state legislature has kicked off the 2019-2020 session with the introduction of numerous bills addressing environment and sustainability issues and concerns, including waste, energy, climate change, and pollution control. These bills include measures introduced or co-sponsored by Melrose’s representatives on Beacon Hill, Senator Jason Lewis (Democrat-5th Middlesex) and Representative Paul Brodeur (Democrat-32nd Middlesex).

Sen. Lewis recently joined with members of the Melrose Recycling Committee, the Melrose Energy Commission, and other member organizations of Sustainable Melrose to provide an update of environment and sustainability activities on Beacon Hill. Joining these groups were representatives of sustainability organizations in Wakefield. Rep. Brodeur was invited to come but could not join the discussion, as the Massachusetts House of Representatives was in an important session to determine the rules and committee assignments for the coming legislative term.

Which, if any, of the newly introduced bills makes it through to passage is difficult to say so early in the legislative session, when the respective chambers have only just set the rules of order and committee assignments. Thousands of bills are introduced in any given session; fewer than 100 typically make it to the finish line—and still fewer are bills of sweeping significance. But this is the season of hope—and action.

One measure that has a fighting chance is a bill that would limit the use of single-use plastic bags state-wide. A similar measure passed in the Senate during the last session but did not make it to the floor of the House—reflecting the dark mystery of legislative sausage-making embedded in the fact that, for reasons requiring some “inside baseball” to understand, the Speaker of the House (Robert DeLeo, Democrat-Winthrop) and the President of the Senate (Karen Spilka, Democrat-Ashland) wield significant power in determining which bills come to the floors of their respective chambers for a vote.

The plastic-bag measure has been re-introduced during the current session as HD134 in the House. As of February 6, the bill had upwards of 90 co-sponsors (there are 40 members of the Massachusetts Senate and 160 members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives; any of the 200 legislators may co-sponsor any proposed legislation in either chamber). By all accounts, the Senate will pass the bill again, and with a large number of cosponsors, to go along with more than 90 cities and towns across the state that have enacted their own plastic bag bans, there is high confidence that HD134 will pass the House and be signed by Governor Charlie Baker.

Several other newly introduced bills address environmental and sustainability-related issues in the current session. During the recent discussion with Sustainable Melrose, Sen. Lewis handed out a list of such bills that have been introduced in the state Senate, with short descriptions. Those bills include the following:

  • An act relative to energy savings efficiency (Energy Save Act, SD767): This bill would establish updated energy and water efficiency standards for common household appliances.
  • An act to reduce solid waste, increase recycling, and generate municipal cost savings (SD62): This bill would implement a number of strategies to reduce solid waste and increase recycling, including setting specific municipal recycling performance targets, strengthening oversight and enforcement of waste bans, strengthening regulation of waste haulers, and improving the collection and reporting of solid waste data.
  • An act to expand the Green Communities program to mitigate climate change (SD1710): This bill would expand the existing Green Communities program with a new designation, called “Green Plus.” To achieve this designation and access additional grant funding from the state, communities would need to establish a greenhouse gas (GHG) baseline and plan to reduce their carbon emissions over five years.
  • Resolve to protect pollinator habitat (SD61): This measure would establish a commission to study opportunities for improving pollinator (bee) health by increasing and enhancing native pollinator habitat. Such opportunities could include limits on the use of neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide widely believed by biologists to be responsible for significant honey bee mortality in the state and around the country.
  • An act to explore alternative funding sources to ensure safe and reliable transportation (SD870): This measure would create a voluntary vehicle miles traveled (VMT) pilot program to evaluate ways to protect data collected, ensure privacy, and vary pricing based on time of day, type of road, proximity to transit, participation in carpooling, income of the driver, and vehicle fuel.

For more information on these bills and others, please visit the Massachusetts State Legislature’s website. Read up and please contact your representative or senator if you support any of these measures.

Recycling Committee staff compiled the following list of environment- and sustainability-related bills introduced into the House of Representatives for consideration during the current session:

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Reducing Reliance on Plastic Wrap—and Saving Sea Turtles Everywhere!

By Katie Turner Getty

“You know, sea turtles think plastic wrap is a jellyfish and they eat it. Then they get sick.”

I had just removed plastic cling wrap from a dish, and was about to toss it into the garbage can when my friend’s daughter spoke. I looked at the balled-up plastic film in my hand. It was true.

It did kind of look like a jellyfish.

Haltingly, I explained that I’d already used the plastic wrap, and it was dirty now, and I had to throw it away. So I did. Knowing that plastic wrap is not biodegradable and knowing that it poses a threat to marine life, I simply threw it in the trash.

But I haven’t forgotten about it. In fact, every time since then that I’ve thrown plastic wrap in the trash, I’ve recalled the conversation I had with my friend’s daughter—and the definite resemblance plastic wrap bears to jellyfish.

As I embark on the second month of my personal #SingleUsePlasticChallenge, I’ve decided that, in honor of sea turtles everywhere, I will give up plastic wrap.

My new years’ resolution this year is to give up one single-use plastic item every month for twelve months. Last month, I stopped packing my lunch in single-use sandwich bags and instead started placing my lunch in a reusable plastic container. A very small step, to be sure—but my new years’ goal is to implement small changes to my daily routines that are sustainable in the long-term.

Reducing my reliance on plastic wrap will prove to be especially tough for me this month given that I’ve also been trying to minimize the amount of wasted food within my household. In fact, I believe my success in reducing food waste has had the undesirable side of effect of increasing my usage of plastic wrap—I typically preserve leftovers by wrapping them in cling wrap!

The conversation about sea turtles and jellyfish was still fresh in my mind at Christmas, when I had the opportunity to participate in a “Yankee swap.” At the swap, I angled for a set of five glass containers, which I was fortunate to obtain. My plan is to store food in the glass containers rather than wrap dishes in cling wrap. The glass containers will require washing—which will slightly increase water usage. But hopefully this negative will be greatly offset by not adding my used plastic wrap to the plastic pollution that is choking our oceans and waterways and harming animals.

As I continue my personal journey to reduce my consumption of single-use plastics, I still plan to eschew single-use plastic sandwich bags. I’ll also work hard this month to use my new glass containers to store leftover food. I also learned of a more traditional, time-tested method of storing food in the refrigerator—placing a saucer on top of the dish to form a seal. (Added bonus: You can then stack items on top of the saucer!) This method is, of course, much less convenient than simply stretching some plastic wrap over a dish. But the chance to save some sea turtles is definitely worth the added effort!

I’ve been surprised by how many times during my personal #SingleUsePlasticChallenge I’ve been tempted to quit. Negative, defeatist thoughts often crowd into my mind such as, “You are one person—what possible difference can you make?” But then I think of a sign that I saw a climate activist holding that posed a question: “What will you tell the future children of the world that you did?” And, it’s simple: As we face the threat of climate change to ours and future generations, and the relentlessly increasing wave of plastic pollution in our oceans, I do not want my answer to be “nothing.”

I hope others, too, will decide to embark on their own personal challenge and try to reduce reliance on single use plastics. Do you have any pro tips to help others minimize the use of single use plastics? If you do, please help me and others learn by leaving some comments on the Melrose Recycling Committee blog, or by sharing some tips on social media or to the Melrose Free Press or Melrose Weekly News.