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.

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