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More Massachusetts Communities Adopt Plastic Bag Bans

A shopper with a single-use plastic bag

Advocates claim momentum is building for banning disposable plastic bags from retail checkout counters in Massachusetts despite setbacks in the state legislature and in two of the state’s largest cities.

At least 18 municipalities in Massachusetts passed regulations this year governing the use of the plastic shopping bags found at the end of checkout lines in nearly every retail setting from big box stores to the neighborhood bodega. 

Over 35 Massachusetts communities have plastic bag regulations on the books, according to the Sierra Club.  A ban on the single-use bags in Amherst takes effect in January.

The Boston City Council held several public hearings on a proposed ordinance, but took no final vote.  The Health and Human Services Committee of the Springfield City Council held a single meeting in September when a proposed ordinance was introduced to ban retailers in the city from using disposable plastic bags at the point of sale.

City Councilor Adam Gomez, who chairs the committee, said he supports the ban in principle.

"I think we need to turn into a more greener community and this is a step forward," Gomez said after the hearing.

Gomez said he wants additional hearings in committee before deciding whether to bring the proposed ordinance to the full city council. He said he’s concerned about how it would be enforced and the impact on the owners of small stores.

" There has to be notice and a time period before enforcement begins so people are not taken by surprise," said Gomez.

Jesse Lederman, Director of Public Health and Environmental Initiatives with Arise for Social Justice, said he expects a renewed push on the bag ban in Springfield after the New Year.

" We are absolutely committed to making sure this is not a burden on small businesses in the city of Springfield," he said.

   Lederman and other activists say the non-biodegradable plastic bags are clogging landfills and incinerators, are a major source of litter, a choking hazard to wildlife, and a suffocation risk for infants.

Trade organizations for plastic manufacturers, retailers, and restaurants oppose the efforts to ban the disposable bags.  Their lobbying helped block a effort in the state legislature to ban single-use plastic bags at retailers larger than 3,000 square feet.

Clint Richmond of the Sierra Club said if large cities like Springfield get on board it could be the tipping point for a statewide ban.

" There have been other communities in western Massachusetts that have passed bans including Northampton.  There's been a lot of activity in the Berkshires. Springfield would be the largest city on the East Coast to have a plastic bag ban," said Richmond.

      He  said there are 2 billion single-use plastic bags distributed annually in Massachusetts.

" Every month we wait, a million more bags are flying out the window," said Richmond.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance said in an email that bans on plastic bags threaten 25,000 jobs nationwide in the plastic manufacturing and recycling industries.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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