Officials Want To Enact a Plastic Bag Ban In Somerville

Returning Mayor Joe Curtatone hopes 2014 will be the year to do it.

They get trapped in the barren tree branches, cause problems for wildlife, and clog up gutters and drains along the city streets—and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone hopes to get rid of them for good.

During his inaugural speech on Monday night after being elected to a sixth term, Curtatone told supporters that he hoped to make 2014 the year that Somerville would finally “rid” the community of plastic bags.

“[We] plan on working together, and crafting an ordinance that makes sense,” Curtatone said by phone, a day after celebrating his official return to City Hall. “We want to look at best practices. But one thing we pride ourselves on in Somerville is [being] a model city on municipal management and planning, and like many cities around the world we should set standards on sustainability, and take the lead on issues like removing plastic bags from the environment.”

Originally floated by Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz in 2008, the plastic bag ban fell flat and got tangled up in discussions. But with a board that’s likely ready to support a rebirth of the proposal, Curtatone has plans to put it back on the table.

“I have spoken with Alderman Gewirtz, and hopefully over the next couple of months they will put forth the proposal,” he said.

Curtatone said the plan will require working with local businesses and associations to hammer out details that would lead to a comprehensive but sustainable model that could serve as an example for other municipalities around the state considering similar measures.

“If we want to do something, we want to have a real impact. We will look at best practices around the world, and Somerville can launch from there. We will bring in residents and businesses as part of the conversation,” he said.

He said he recognized that there could be some pushback from the community—and a disagreement about an outright ban—but is sure that people will adjust. “The private sector—there are many businesses in the sector that have developed great sustainability models. We want to work with everyone. Everyone is a partner in what we want to do,” he said. “There will be a lot of questions, and some pushback, sure. But we are going to do this together.”

The ban would be the next step in a series of environmentally conscious moves the city has approached. Last June, the Board of Aldermen voted in favor of banning polystyrene takeout food containers. That ban becomes official in May. Businesses that violate the ban will be subjected to hefty fines and risk losing their permits to operate if they don’t comply.

If a plastic bag ban were passed this year, it would impact several large supermarket chains in Somerville, including a Stop and Shop, Whole Foods, and Market Basket.

“Like Styrofoam, plastic doesn’t break down, and it remains part of the waste stream. There are easy and sustainable alternatives. It’s about getting back into the habit of using reusable bags,” said Curtatone.

Somerville wouldn’t be the first community in the Boston area to do away with plastic shopping bags at stores and big-chain supermarkets, however. In December, Brookline residents had to officially switch over to environmentally friendly options after their own town-wide ban took effect. Businesses had a full year to prepare for the ban after the law was passed in 2012.

Like the Styrofoam ban, Curtatone hopes a plastic bag purge will have a lasting impact for the city.

“It’s a small significant way we can do our part to help the environment,” he said. “I hope when I’m done being mayor of the city, what I leave behind is not something we just see physically, or touch in terms of bricks and mortar, but the environment itself is cleaner and better. [I hope] we are launched to a better place than when we got here.”