Robert Golder, Graduate Research Asst., Urban Initiative
There may soon be fewer plastic bags decorating the trees in our municipal parks, or lining the curbs of city streets, ready to be washed into storm drains to clog sewers during the next rainfall. The Joint House and Senate Environment, Natural Resource and Agriculture Committee has approved Senate Bill 2314, “An act relative to plastic bag reduction,” that would ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags statewide. Incorporating a draft of House Bill 1990, the measure could be scheduled for a final vote in the next few weeks. Many US cities have banned plastic bags (this year, Los Angeles became the largest city to do so), but passage of this bill would make Massachusetts the first state to enact a statewide ban of single-use plastic bags (every county in Hawaii has passed its own plastic bag ban, so there is a de facto state-wide ban in Hawaii).
Sponsored by State Representative Lori A. Ehrlich (D-Marblehead), the bill would require retailers to provide compostable bags at checkout, eliminating non-biodegradable plastic bags. Retailers larger than 4,000 square feet will be affected. At least one manufacturer of the bioplastic resins used in compostable bags, Metabolix, is located here in Massachusetts.
Besides their unattractive appearance, discarded plastic bags choke wildlife, and annually add the equivalent of 12 million barrels to our national thirst for oil. Single-use plastic bags are also challenging to recycle; at least 90% of the estimated 380 billion bags that are used annually in the USA are not recycled.
The Massachusetts Plastic Bag Reduction Act would help reduce marine pollution and debris along our state’s 1500 miles of coastline and in city harbors, including Fall River and New Bedford. The legislation is compatible with the draft Massachusetts 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan, also known as the “Pathway to Zero Waste.”