At Women Working for Oceans we have been promoting the passing of the Plastic Bag Ban of Massachusetts. Our newest member of the W2O team, Dartmouth rising senior, Phoebe Racine, went to Brookline, a suburb of Boston that has passed a municipal bill banning plastic bags, to interview businesses, find out what people think of the ban, learn how it might influence their choices and affect business when is enacted in December. 

On a Wednesday in the ides of November, Brookline was the first town in Massachusetts to enact a ban specifically on plastic bags and polystyrene to-go containers. Brookline’s hope was to start a movement. They wanted to pave way for towns, cities, counties and states throughout the East Coast to pass similar bans. And start a movement they have. Since the ruling, Manchester-By-The-Sea and Great Barrington have followed suit. However, Brookline was not the first to ban one time use plastic bags, only the first to do so specifically. In 1989, Nantucket banned a wide array of plastics, including the plastic bag. Today, four Massachusetts towns have a bag ban in place. In my interview with Town Meeting member, Clint Richmond, he explained that these four towns represent 1% of Massachusetts. As for the other 98% of the state, W2O hopes that Massachusetts will pass Bill H696 and thus enact the first ever, statewide plastic bag ban.

In our push for the bag ban we believe it imperative to explore a ban’s effects on towns who have passed such laws. I went to Brookline to interview businesses and take a lay of the land. What I found surprised me.

The Brookline Town Council set the ban to start December 1st of 2013, allowing over a year for businesses to prepare. At the time, Brock Parker of The Boston Globe reported that, “As many as 90 businesses will have to deal with the plastic bag dilemma in the coming months.” The ban will affect businesses over 2,5000 sq ft in size and franchises with more than two sites within Brookline. In Brookline I spoke to local businesses and in particular businesses who I knew would be affected. I went to CVS, Stop & Shop and Walgreens and was surprised by the lack of knowledge about the upcoming ban. With less than five months before the ban is to start, I envisioned that owners, managers and employees alike would be aware of what was to come. As the first town to enact such a bill in the state, I believed that this was either exciting or unfortunate news for businesses and for people who live or work in Brookline. However, I spoke to several managers and all were unaware that there was a ban set by Town Council. (Maybe a majority of employees are traveling in to work from out of town..)Most felt that the ban would not affect their business.

After calling CVS and Walgreens corporate offices all I hear was ‘I-don’t-know-I’ll-have-someone-call-you-back.’ (Still waiting..)  A representative from the CVS Massachusetts district development office did think through the issue with me and said, “I’m not sure. We used to have a Green Bag Tag, (a reward system for using a reusable bag) maybe we’ll go back to that?”

While the reactions from store managers and representatives from corporate spoke with relative lack of knowledge or neutrality, a video published on June 24th by journalist Jonathan Satriale showed an overall positive reaction from Brookline shoppers. Set outside Booksmith in Coolidge Corner, the video “Brookline Plastic Bag Ban Reactions” captures the thoughts and statements of 10 Brookline residents. Susan Davis admitted, “I try not to use plastic bags anyway. I try to bring my own. I think it (the bag ban) will encourage me more to bring those bags.” Gary, however, reminded us, “how many people do you see carrying reusable bags? It’s all fine, but there is always another side of the coin.” Overall most residents interviewed believed such a ban will make them “more responsible.”  To watch the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3aY_nESNIY

Do you think a plastic bag ban in your town would make you ‘more responsible?’ How do you think you’re community would react to such a ban? Please let us know!