Committee Says Yes to Mass. Plastic Bag Ban Bill

Committee Says Yes to Mass. Plastic Bag Ban Bill

First Legislature to Ban Bags Statewide? | Plastic Bag Ban Report
BOSTON, Massachusetts, June 25, 2012 (ENS) - A committee of the Massachusetts Legislature has voted "yes" to a bill that would ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags state-wide.

The Joint House and Senate Environment, Natural Resource and Agriculture Committee on June 14 reported bill H.1990 favorably to the full Legislature. The measure could be scheduled for a final vote by all Massachusetts lawmakers within the next few weeks.

Jamie at AMSA. Courtesy James Eldridge.

Plastic Bags Environmental Consequences
One of the bill's sponsors, State Senator Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat representing Acton, said, "The widespread use of plastic bags has serious consequences for the environment - littering our coastlines, using up billions of gallons of petroleum a year, leaching toxic chemicals into our soil and water, and killing millions of animals each year. It's time to ban
this dangerous product and encourage the use of more sustainable alternatives." (See video: Jamie Discusses Banning Plastic Carryout Bags)

"Over 380 billion plastic bags are used every year by Americans, and only about five percent are recycled," said Eldridge.

That figure is more like one percent in Massachusetts, says State Representative Lori Ehrlich, a Democrat representing Marblehead, who sponsored the bill in the House.

Rep. Lori Ehrlich. Courtesy: Lori Ehrlich

About 1.4 billion plastic bags are used in Massachusetts each year, and Ehrlich said that roughly one percent of those bags get recycled at a cost of $4,000 per ton of plastic.

The 99 percent of Massachusetts plastic bags that are not recycled can take up to 400 years to degrade, so if they migrate into Massachusetts waterways and offshore waters, they remain dangerous to whales, seals, turtles, birds, and fish. The marine animals can mistake the floating bags for food or become entangled in them.

Plastic bags discarded on land litter the landscape and can clog landfills and sewer pipes.

"Like urban tumbleweeds, plastic bags end up airborne in trees, clogging storm drains and polluting our oceans," said Ehrlich. "Every time we utilize a plastic bag we are contributing to leaving our planet worse for the generations that will follow us."

"This legislation will put Massachusetts on the map as a beacon for responsible consumer behavior and environmental stewardship," Ehrlich said.

Massachusetts Plastic Bag Reduction Act
Formally known as the Massachusetts Plastic Bag Reduction Act, the bill would ban single-use plastic bags from stores greater than 4,000 square feet, with the exception of compostable plastic bags, and would require paper bags to be made of recycled material.

Many grocery stores have already implemented these policies; in fact the Massachusetts town of Nantucket became one of the first locations to ban plastic bags nearly 20 years ago.

As a result, passage of a state-wide law banning plastic bags would not make life difficult for Massachusetts shoppers, says the Massachusetts Sierra Club.

"This is a major step in the right direction for Massachusetts," said James McCaffrey, director of the state's Sierra Club branch. "With this ban we would save the lives of millions of animals, who could otherwise suffer a painful death," McCaffrey said. "It's crucial that we protect the world we live in, and banning plastic bags is a significant step in that direction."

Many cities across the United States have banned plastic bags, but passage of this bill would make Massachusetts the first state to enact a statewide ban by the legislature. Hawaii has a de facto state-wide ban as every county in Hawaii has passed its own plastic bag ban.

Massachusetts Expanded Bottle Bill
In other plastics news from the Massachusetts Legislature, the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy June 18 voted to further study an expanded bottle bill, which will likely stop the proposal until January 2013, when the next legislative session begins.

The expanded bottle bill seeks to cover bottles that contain iced tea, fruit juice and other non-alcoholic, non-carbonated, bottled or canned drinks in addition to the beer, soda and water bottles covered by the existing bill.

The expansion was expected to bring in as much as $20 million in new state revenue from unreturned bottles.

Supporters of the proposal claim that it would reduce litter and the amount of waste sent to landfills, while opponents claim that stores do not have the capacity to handle an influx of newly returnable empties.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

PHOTO: State House, Massachusetts Legislature (Photo courtesy Government of Massachusetts)