State Official Wants To Ban Plastic Bag Use in Massachusetts By 2015

Grocery stores and retailers would have to find alternative bag options if the bill passed.

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Plastic bag photo via Shutterstock

A Somerville state representative is trying to put a stop to the use of plastic shopping bags and enact a statewide ban in retail and grocery stores, citing a concern for the impact they have on the environment.

“They [can] get caught in street drains, which exasperates flooding during heavy rain events, and when you do river cleanups, the sludge is twisted with plastic bags. The amount of plastic bags [you find] is just staggering,” said State Representative Denise Provost in a phone interview Thursday. “Birds and fish and other kinds of wildlife can also think that bits of bags that come loose are food.”

Provost recently filed legislation on Beacon Hill, which was heard by the Joint Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture this week, that would put a stop to the distribution of  plastic bags in all retail shops and grocery stores throughout Massachusetts. According to Provost’s proposal, if passed, “no retail establishment located in the Commonwealth … may distribute plastic carryout bags,” and “this prohibition applies to bags provided for the purpose of carrying away goods from the point of sale.”

The plastic bag ban, which would go into effect in April 2015, recommends that shops instead consider reusable bags or brown paper bags. The bill would not include the smaller plastic bags used for produce at grocery stores, she said.

But Provost isn’t the first person on Beacon Hill to put this idea on the table. Recently, a similar bill received favorable action and was referred to the legislature’s Ways and Means Committee. But some of the language in that proposal, Provost said, might not address the issue of reducing plastic use in the state. “[That bill] creates two new classes of plastic bags, one of which would be considered reusable based on its thickness. It is still a plastic bag, even if its slightly thinner,” she said.

In November 2012, Brookline residents passed their own version of a plastic bag ban, which gave businesses one year to find alternative options. The Brookline ban applies to polyethylene plastic bags that are not disposable, or marine degradable, much like the proposal filed in Provost’s legislation.

Two other bills were also heard on Beacon Hill in front of the Committee on Thursday, also relating to reducing the use of plastic bags in retail and grocery stores, but the provisions in those proposals were less detailed, and would ban the use statewide in 2017.

Provost said more could be added to her legislation through discussion with elected officials, such as the possibility of adding a “plastic bag fee” to store if they insist on continuing to use the products. She said customers could then pay for the bags, so that it would create a sense of worth for the product, and people would be more inclined to reuse them, rather than pay again when returning to a store. “This is another option too that’s not a ban, but it’s a way of reducing use. They start looking at a plastic bag as a commodity and not something that’s disposable,” she said.

Provost was confident people would be on board with the ban, and adapt to it much like residents of Brookline. “I think people would adjust. I think the biggest pushback is from the plastic bag industry. Some retailers might have some resistance, too,” she said.