BROOKLINE, Massachusetts, November 19, 2012 (ENS) - The Boston suburb of Brookline has become the second town in Massachusetts to ban plastic bags. At a special Town Meeting last week, Brookline voted to follow in the footsteps of Nantucket, which banned single-use plastic carry bags back in 1990.
The ban was approved by Town Meeting, Brookline's legislative arm of government, which consists of 240 elected Town Meeting members plus the members of the Board of Selectmen, the Town Moderator, and the Town Clerk, and any state representative or state senator who resides in Brookline. The town has maintained this form of government since it was incorporated in 1705.
In votes on two consecutive days last week, the Brookline Town Meeting voted first to get rid of styrofoam containers and then to ban plastic bags.
Brookline Town Meeting voted Tuesday night to forbid restaurants in town from serving coffee or take-out food in disposable styrofoam, or polystyrene containers.
On Wednesday, Brookline Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved a ban on the use of plastic bags by retail stores bigger than 2,500 square feet. These larger stores will have to provide bags that are either compostable or marine degradable.
Both bans will take effect in December 2013.
The bag ban effort was led by Brookline activists and Town Meeting Members Clint Richmond and Andrew Fischer assisted by the Massachusetts Sierra Club.
The ordinance prohibits the distribution of disposable plastic checkout bags at the point of sale. It allows paper bags and also allows bags made with biodegradable and compostable bioplastics, provided that they meet strict standards.
"One of the main reasons we did this was to inspire statewide action," said Town Meeting Member Clint Richmond, who was the bylaw's sponsor.
"I applaud the town meeting members' decision to move forward with this initiative to protect the environment and local waterways from plastic bag pollution," said Brookline Selectman Jesse Mermell. "Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute the our lakes and oceans for future generations."
Brookline's ban was based on legislation filed by State Representatives Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead and Frank Smizik of Brookline as well as State Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton, all Democrats.
"In Brookline, public support for the plastic bag ban has been clear," said Smizik, who was the lead sponsor of a bill that would have banned them statewide.
"Banning plastic bags is a common sense policy to protect the environment," Smizik said. "We look forward to seeing other municipalities follow Brookline's lead."
The Massachusetts Sierra Club and other organizations have been attempting to pass statewide legislation to ban plastic bags.
To date, only Hawaii has banned them statewide. Hawaii did so this year in a county-by-county effort.
Plastic bags are mistaken for food by both domesticated and wild animals. Over one million seabirds are killed by plastic waste each year as well as 100,000 sea mammals and countless fish, according to Clive Gifford, writing in the book "Planet Under Pressure."
The Massachusetts Sierra Club says the list of Massachusetts animals threatened by choking, strangling, and entanglement in plastic bags includes green turtles that nest on Nantucket and the right whales that feed off the Massachusetts coast.
"Public support for banning bags is overwhelming," said Phil Sego of the Sierra Club. "Nobody wants to be responsible for something that's so harmful for the environment."
But Brian Houghton, vice president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which represents supermarkets and food stores, said that bags made of compostable material pose other problems. They cannot be composted without an industrial process or recycled with plastic bags.
Plastic bags need much less transport space to the recycler than an equivalent number of paper bags, and that is one reason they are cheaper for stores and consumers, Houghton said. "We've always said the problem isn't the bag itself, it's what people do with it after they're done with it."
"What's really scary is that scientists tell us this plastic will never biodegrade, and every day we go without tackling this problem, it becomes a little bit worse," said Representative Ehrlich, who has proposed a statewide ban several times. "We need the State Legislature to pass a statewide ban on single use plastic bags."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: S.S. Pierce Building, Brookline, Mass., by Elizabeth Thomson on flickr.com. Licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)