Massachusetts’ Plastic Bag Reduction Act
Posted by Ted Duboise
Massachusetts' Plastic Bag Reduction Act | Plastic Bag Ban Report
Sponsored by State Representative Lori A. Ehrlich from Marblehead, Bill H.1990 would require all retailers to provide compostable bags at checkout. If passed, the law would not prohibit retailers from giving bags to customers, but would eliminate non-biodegradable plastic bags and require retailers to use only compostable plastic bags. As currently written, any retailer with retail space over 4,000 square feet will be affected.
Rep. Lori Ehrlich. Courtesy: Lori Ehrlich
In an interview this week, Rep. Ehrlich stated, "The bill is in committee, then goes to the full House for a vote. Bill H.1990 was introduced in 2011, but Massachusetts has a two-year legislative session, so it will be decided this year".
State Representative Lori Ehrlich represents the Eighth Essex including the cities of Lynn, Marblehead, and Swampscott. First elected in 2008, she sits on several committees in the Massachusetts legislature and is Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. She has sponsored and supported numerous bills on environmental legislation.
When asked if retailers would be able to source compostable bags, Rep. Ehrlich said, "We have our own manufacturer right here in the state of Massachusetts. We have talked with Metabolix, a maker of bioplastic resins that are used as a bioplastic alternative to produce compostable bags." Metabolix is headquartered in Cambridge, Mass.
Supporters of the Bill
Rep. Ehrlich said Bill H.1990 has a long list of supporters, which includes both sides of the legislature. Petitioners include five members of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture; nine members of the House Ways and Means Committee; ten members of the Joint Ways and Means Committee; and the Assistant Majority Whip along with the Assistant Minority Leader.
Pathway to Zero Waste
With 1500 miles of coastline, the Massachusetts Plastic Bag Reduction Act would help alleviate marine debris and ocean pollution. The legislation is also in tune with the Draft Mass. 2010-2020 Solid Waste Master Plan, also called the "Pathway to Zero Waste".
Some of the main points of the Solid Waste Master Plan(1) are:
- reduce solid waste disposal by 30% by 2020
- increase business, institutional, and residential recycling and composting
- strengthen ‘producer responsibility’ requirements
- aggressive implementation of existing and new waste bans
- keep toxics out of the waste stream
In fact, the Plastic Bag Reduction Act is in tune with most of the points of the Solid Waste Master Plan. In the Plan, under Objective 1, this bill will meet seven of the ten bullet points. This bill is definitely an action step of Objective 3 of the Plan.
The Plan calls for increased 'producer responsibility' which makes the manufacturer responsible for recovery and proper disposal of their product at the end of its useful life. More states are requiring this function. (See: Maryland Plastic Bag Recycling Act)
The Plan also calls for keeping toxics out of the waste stream. Bill H.1990 definitely achieves this. According to the Massachusetts Sierra Club regarding polyethylene bags: As the polyethylene breaks down, toxic substances from the plastic, inks, and colorants, leach into the soil and enter the food chain. These bags are a slow-acting poison.
If Mass. Plastic Bag Reduction Act passes, there will be increased volume for composting facilities. Massachusetts definitely is a composting state, with over 200 municipal, industrial, and commercial composting facilities statewide.(2) However, some facilities require the citizen to 'drop-off' their compostable goods.
In order for composting or recycling rates to really increase, composting or recycling must be as convenient as plastic. 'Drop-off' to the composting or recycling facility is not as convenient as plastic. A compost or recycling bin must be placed at all retailers for convenience.
Will Massachusetts' Plastic Bag Reduction Act Work?
Of course it will. For proof, simply take a look at Lowell, Mass. Folk Festival. In existence for 20 years, the Lowell Folk Festival has become the largest event of its kind.
Over 200,000 people attend the three-day event each year and the Festival has achieved a waste diversion rate of 95%! The Festival makes it as convenient to recycle as it is to litter. They simply have a plan and then execute that plan.
The same can be achieved on a state-wide basis! As Rep. Ehrlich said, "Massachusetts can become the first state in the U.S. to pass plastic bag regulations state-wide."
(1) Draft 2010-2020 Massachusetts Solid Waste Master Plan
(2) Mass.gov.: Active Compost Sites, Dec. 2009