Boston City Council Votes to Ban Plastic Bags

Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville have already passed similar measures.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates as many as one trillion plastic bags—more than 31,700 per second—are used annually worldwide. But Boston will soon curb its contributions to that astronomical total.

Boston City Council voted unanimously in favor of the ban of single-use plastic bags on Wednesday, according to NBC Boston, bringing an end to more than a year’s worth of debate around the city. But if you’re worried you’ll get stuck at the checkout counter without a bag, don’t be: Stores will still stock bags. The measure, spearheaded by Councilor Matt O’Malley, encourages shoppers to carry reusable bags by charging 5 cents for thicker plastic bag carried at grocery, drug, and convenience stores, the Boston Globe reports.

After the vote, O’Malley tweeted he was “incredibly grateful,” that the measure passed.


Ahead of the vote, supporters of the measure said reducing plastic bag use is an environmental necessity. Not only do errant bags litter the streets of Boston’s neighborhoods, but producing the bags also drains scarce fossil fuels. On the other hand, the proposal’s opponents argued the ban amounts to little more than another consumer tax. They said it wouldn’t even be a huge step in the green direction because so many products people buy are made of plastic—a plastic shampoo bottle is still a plastic shampoo bottle even if it’s inside a reusable canvas bag.

Hundreds of communities across the country (including around 60 in Massachusetts alone) have adopted plastic bag bans. In moving forward with the ban, Boston joins neighboring Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville, along with Chicago, Seattle, and the entire state of California. And yet, ahead of the vote, the proposal was not a shoe-in.

In December 2016, the Globe reported that Mayor Marty Walsh did not support the measure, citing concerns about how the ban would affect small businesses and low-income residents. At the time, Carl Spector, the city’s environmental commissioner, said the administration was creating its own plan to protect the environment. Whether that plan includes any check-out counter stipulations remains to be seen.

This story was updated on November 29 at 1:17 p.m. after Boston City Council voted in favor of the plastic bag ban.