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Pause Continues On Plastic Bag Regulations In Massachusetts

A shopper with a single-use plastic bag

As Massachusetts gradually reopens its economy, environmental activists are calling for a cleaner, more sustainable future.

During the pandemic, Massachusetts put some environmental laws on hold. With phase two of the reopening underway, some of the restrictions have been lifted. 

Beverage containers can be returned to stores for a deposit refund.  But reusable shopping bags are still banned.

For an update, WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill spoke with Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MassPIRG.

Why did the state restrict this during the, during the pandemic? And why are they allowing it at this point of the reopening process?

If you consider or look back then we just didn't know how this virus spread, what this virus was. We weren't sure if we should breathe in and breathe out, for goodness sake. It was you know, it was extreme. It was a very difficult time. And I can understand at that point, taking big measures to be cautious. But over the weeks that followed, it became clear that it seems like most of the science and most of the medical journals are saying that's not the way transmission happens, number one. And number two, you know, the governor is reopening the state. You know, we're at the beginning of phase two now. So a lot of things are getting back on the road to where they were before. And I think redeeming containers makes perfect sense.

One thing though, that we're not back with yet is we still can't use reusable cloth shopping bags.

So along with the Sierra Club, we've called both for allowing the municipalities that had already passed plastic bag bans to go back to doing that, and we have asked that consumers be able to bring their reusable bags to the stores to bag themselves. And we did that for four reasons in no particular order. Number one, as I mentioned earlier, there is simply no legitimate science that says that plastic or paper bags are safer than reusable bags. And that leads to number two, which is there's plenty of evidence that the plastic lobbyists went wild at the beginning of this virus to lobby for the use of single use plastic. I'm no industrial engineer, but I do the food shopping in my family. If I could bag my own groceries, I would be out of the store more quickly than the way it is right now. And it is a fact that transmission happens between two people who are close to each other.

Does this set back the whole effort to try to get a statewide plastic bag ban passed in Massachusetts?

It's funny that you say that because I think it will work both ways. Sure it's a setback because now over the past three months, we've, you know, we've gone back to being given plastic bags in 140 cities and towns where they had been banned, and it's become a part of our everyday life in many cases. On the other hand, I know from what I see on social media, from our members contacting us, I think that there is a heightened sensibility about how much waste this is causing. So anyway, I think to answer your question, I think it's going to work both ways. Hopefully, more people will realize that we need to reduce the use of all this stuff altogether.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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