Cambridge Could Become the Next City to Ban Plastic Bags

The City Council is expected to vote on a proposal next week.

It was seven years ago that City Councilors first started discussions about a plastic bag ban in Cambridge. Next week, Councilor Dennis Carlone will finally call for action.

In a letter dated December 11, filed with the City Clerk, Carlone outlined the need for an ordinance that would reduce the use of plastic bags citywide, and told other council members that he plans to put the proposition on the table for a vote.

“Plastic checkout bags should be outlawed,” Carlone said in the letter, which was sent to Boston. “The time has come for the city of Cambridge to be a leader in the effort to change the ‘single-use, throwaway culture’ that contributes to the problem of global climate change.”

City officials began mulling a ban in 2007, before later coming up with “no less than eight” policy orders and recommendations to advance the measure, Carlone said. But after years of conducting studies and holding public hearings with no results, Carlone said passing a law is long overdue. The proposal has been sitting idle on the council’s docket of topics to discuss and take action on since February.

Citing the negative impacts they have on the environment—littering the ground, getting trapped in tree branches, and being consumed by small animals—Carlone said the ban, known as the “Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance,” would force establishments in Cambridge to rid their stores of plastic bags, and replace them with either recyclable paper bags, or reusable ones.

If council members vote in favor of the ordinance, it would go into effect 180 days after passage, making Cambridge the largest city on the East Coast to ban plastic checkout bags in their community.

Any store caught violating the law would be subject to an initial $300 fine, followed by subsequent penalties, according to the details of the proposal. Businesses would be given ample time to get rid of any plastic bags they have in stock, before facing fines. The ordinance would be enforced by officials from several city agencies, including the commissioner of the Department of Public Works, the executive director of the License Commission, the executive director of the Inspectional Services Department, and the commissioner of the Health Commission.

Cambridge’s ban would follow in the footsteps of a law passed in Brookline in 2012, which bars certain larger businesses from using single-use polyethylene plastic bags in their stores. A spokesperson from Carlone’s office said officials worked closely with Clint Richmond, a Brookline Town Meeting member who was instrumental in advancing that ordinance, on Cambridge’s version of the bill.

A popular topic amongst elected officials looking to clean up their streets, Somerville also called for a ban of their own this year.  Rolling out a statewide restriction on the use of plastic bags was also floated at the State House in 2013, but the measure was stalled.

140210 Plastic Bag Reduction Attachments_1

  • elie_yarden

    I, as a natural person, find all sorts of uses for plastic bags. This no more entitles me to contribute to the destruction of the earth’s oceans, than to use the public’s space to station my car. My grocer’s interest is to maximize gain at the checkout counter, avoiding waste by packaging (with poor quality control) lines. Under the Cambridge ordinance, $300- a-day fines can be treated as a operating cost in the supermarkets. It’s only the small grocer that will comply. Let’s begin to examine the reliance of economic growth on poverty (waste of persons) as well as generating trash (waste of our physical environment). Elie Yarden; Green-Rainbow Party

  • MarkinArl

    These plastic bags SAVE lives! In these short winter days pedestrians on streets are seldom wearing any outerwear that makes them visible to drivers. Instead its dark coats and pants with no white or reflective accents. The white plastic shopping bags make people far more visible – brown paper and typical reusable do not! Until pedestrians dress for safety, white plastic bags are needed.


    I find it interesting that people are worried about plastic bags yet all large appliances including fridges,stoves…are becoming throw away items. They clog a lot more room in waste facilities so we should get our priorities straight. More time should be spent on people without enough to eat and without funds for medications…and the list goes on and on. I just hope these idiots stay in Cambridge and don’t migrate into Arlington. We spend enough on taxes already and this will cost taxpayers.

    • philsego

      Thanks to forward-thinking state laws, stoves, refrigerators, and all major appliances all recycled by law and in practice. This is true in Arlington, Cambridge, and everywhere from Provincetown to North Adams.

      You seem to be saying that our government should only discuss food and medicine. The reality is that they discuss many MANY important issues, and it’s good that they do so.


        And in the meantime people die. Sure- Makes sense to me…

  • Mahesh Viswanathan

    this is a silly idea. paper bags are low quality, the handles almost always fall off, paper cuts are part of the deal (and yes, they are painful) and the bags don’t do well when it snows or rains. Just look at the ones from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. many of us in cambridge don’t have cars. it is almost impossible to carry a large number of paper bags. i can sling 5 big plastic bags on each shoulder, tied together and walk with them 30 minutes, that’s one to two weeks’ groceries — can your paper bag do that?. plastic bags are also very useful for garbage. i see no sense in banning plastic bags on one end and then making us buy bags on the other end for garbage. try carrying paper bags slung on bicycle handles. this is nonsensical. and do we really need any more ordinances, more laws than are already there? in their infinite wisdom, cambridge recycling does not accept items that have been bagged in (gasp) grocery bags and put into the (excellent quality but huge) recycling bins they’ve provided us. seems like a lot of cross purposes are at work here. oh, and i’m extremely environmentally conscious, never had a car, walk/bike everywhere and i’m a vegetarian.