Mass Senate Proposes Ban on Carry-Out Plastic Bags at Retail Stores

The following is a press release from Senate President Karen Spilka’s office submitted to SOURCE


BOSTON – The Massachusetts State Senate released a bill today, November 18, that would implement a statewide ban on all carry-out plastic bags at checkout from retail stores.

Senate President Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) took a personal interest in pushing a Senate bill after a family trip to Vancouver, British Columbia and Alaska this summer. 

After viewing an educational display about sea animals who starved to death because of the amount of plastic in their stomachs at the Vancouver Aquarium, she prioritized moving a bill that would ban single-use plastic bags through the legislature this session.

“I was saddened and disgusted, quite frankly, when I was confronted with the reality of what plastics in our oceans do to the animals who call it home,” stated Senate President Spilka. “Beyond that, it made me realize how the health of our planet depends so much on the health of our oceans.  While Massachusetts may not be able to tackle the proliferation of plastics worldwide, we can take concrete action at home.  Implementing a statewide ban on plastic bags, and encouraging the use of reusable bags, is an important first step.  I’d like to thank Senator Jamie Eldridge for making this issue a priority, and Senator Michael Rodrigues for his work on the final Senate bill.”

The bill requires retailers to charge at least 10 cents for a recycled paper bag at check out, and directs that five cents of the amount collected from the sale of paper bags go back to the city or town for enforcement of the ban, as well as for other municipal recycling efforts. 

The retailer may keep the remainder of the fee to recoup the costs of providing paper bags. 

The bill will be debated by the full Senate on Wednesday, November 20, 2019.

“As the Senate sponsor of the legislation to ban plastic bags for the past five years, I’m extremely pleased that the State Senate is putting forward what is one of the strongest plastic bag bans in the country,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).  “Every day, Massachusetts residents see the negative impact of plastic bag pollution, whether along the streets we live in, tangled in trees and bushes, caught up in rivers and streams, and more and more killing sea life in our oceans.  It’s time for Massachusetts to end this plastic waste in our society, and I’m grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka for prioritizing this legislation.”

“This bill is the result of working together with the retail and environmental community to reduce plastic bag waste and address a major source of pollution in the Commonwealth,” said Senator Michael J. Rodrigues, Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Thank you to Senate President Spilka and Senator Eldridge for their leadership on this issue as we consider meaningful ways to protect our environmental and reduce significant impacts on local governments.”

To provide consistency for retailers across the state, the bill would preempt existing plastic bag bans already implemented in cities and towns.  In addition, the ban would continue to allow for plastic bags for specific products where plastic serves an enhanced purpose, such as for produce, poultry or other food items to keep them fresh, or for frozen items or items prone to leak, for example.

To address concerns about cost, the bill allows small retail shops, which use a small number of carry-out bags, additional time to comply with the fee requirement.  It also allows persons paying for their purchase with an EBT card to acquire their recycled carry-out paper bag for no fee.

Single use plastic bags are particularly detrimental to the environment.  Only about 1% of the nearly 400 billion plastic bags used in the US are recycled, as they contaminate curbside single stream recycling systems.  Those that are recycled are not turned into new plastic bags, meaning new plastic must be produced to create new bags.

Because plastic bags are abundant and unlikely to be recycled, they end up as litter.  In the ocean, whales, sea turtles, and birds become seriously injured or die when they mistake plastic bags for food.  In landfills or when incinerated, plastic bags release contaminants into the ground or air, further damaging the environment.

“Plastic pollution is threatening marine life from the tiniest plankton to the largest whales. It’s a problem that can be solved, though.  This legislation stems the tide of plastic bags choking our ocean.  Only when the ocean is healthy can it regulate climate and support our population sustainably and dependably,” stated New England Aquarium President and Chief Executive Officer Vikki Spruill.

“ELM applauds the Senate, under the leadership of Senate President Spilka and longtime champion Senator Eldridge, for taking strong action on unnecessary waste that continues to poison our fish and pollute our parks and waterways,” stated Elizabeth Turnbull Henry, President of the Environmental League of Massachusetts.

“Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute our oceans for centuries,” said Ben Hellerstein, State Director for Environment Massachusetts.  “Reducing waste from plastic bags is an important step to protect our ocean wildlife.  I commend Senate President Spilka for her leadership in bringing this bill forward for a vote.”

“In this renewed effort to reduce our state’s contribution to one of the most unnecessary forms of single-use plastic pollution, we are encouraged by inclusion of a charge on paper, which is entirely avoidable by bringing your own reusable bags.  Data proves that the charge is necessary for any sound policy and provides clear benefits for consumers, retailers, municipalities, and the environment,” said Alex Vai, volunteer vice chair of the Surfrider Foundation Massachusetts Chapter.

“Reducing single use plastic bags gives us much to be thankful for, and so the timing of this progress is ideal,” stated Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG.

“A ban on plastic bags coupled with a fee on paper bags has been the most effective way to change consumer behavior in favor of reusable bags. We applaud the Senate President in promoting a bill that will reduce significant impacts on local governments and the environment,” stated Scott Cassel, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Product Stewardship Institute, Inc.

Over 100 Massachusetts cities and towns have already passed local laws banning plastic, as have Maine, Vermont, New York City, Washington DC, Hawaii, California, Connecticut and Delaware.  Of those jurisdictions, California, Connecticut and Vermont all charge 10 cents for a disposable bag, while Oregon, Maine and DC and NYC all charge five cents.  Fees on paper bags have proven to be an important tool for reducing plastic bag usage.  In Cambridge, Massachusetts, for example, which has had a 10 cent fee on paper bags in place for over three years, they have seen a 50 to 80% reduction in single-use bags taken out at stores.

Framingham Source Editor Susan Petroni

Susan Petroni Framingham Source Editor Email: Phone: 508-315-7176

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