The city of Boston has become the latest and by far the largest community in Massachusetts to move toward banning single-use plastic bags in retail stores.
For shoppers who fail to bring their own reusable bags, the ordinance authorizes retailers in Boston to charge them a 5-cent fee for a compostable plastic bag or a plain paper bag with handles. The businesses would keep the proceeds of the fee.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said Sunday he signed the ordinance despite his often repeated concerns about its impact on the poor and people on fixed incomes.
" People say 'its only five-cents on a bag' but you are nickel-and-diming our seniors," said Walsh.
To give residents and retailers ample time to prepare, the plastic bag ban in Boston does not take effect until a year from now.
" I think it is a great idea to get plastic bags off the streets and out of the trees, but I want to make sure it works for everyone," said Walsh.
Several environmental groups lobbied for the ban on plastic bags. It was opposed by trade organizations representing the state’s retailers and the plastics industry.
The ordinance was passed unanimously by the Boston City Council. It was co-sponsored by Councilor-at-Large Michelle Wu, who disputes the notion the 5-cent fee is a tax on the poor.
" The idea is to incentivize people to bring reusable bags, so there will be a mass effort to make sure free reusable bags are given out at senior centers and community centers," said Wu. " People are already paying for their checkout bags because it is built into the cost of groceries."
Boston is joining 59 municipalities in Massachusetts and hundreds nationwide that have enacted bans on the thin-film plastic bags or imposed user fees.
A proposed ordinance to ban retailers in the state’s third-largest city from using plastic bags at the point of sale came before a Springfield City Council committee for a hearing last year, but did not advance to the full council for a vote.
" We did miss out on an opportunity to lead on the issue," said Springfield City Councilor-elect Jesse Lederman, who as an environmental organizer with Arise for Social Justice lobbied for a proposed plastic bag ban in Springfield.
He said concerns about the impact on the poor and on mom-and-pop retailers stalled the measure last year.
Lederman believes the the action on the issue in Boston will likely accelerate efforts in the Massachusetts legislature to pass a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.
" Regardless of what might happen ( with a statewide ban) it is something I am interested in pursuing," said Lederman.
The Sierra Club estimates that 2 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed annually in Massachusetts.