Legislature Marks Earth Day by Advancing Ban on Plastic Bags
BOSTON – On Monday, April 22, the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, held a special hearing on proposals to ban plastic carryout bags. They immediately voted to advance the bill, taking this critical first step. The bill will now move forward and could face a final vote within the next few weeks.
Plastic bags have been singled out as a one of the most visible and dangerous types of litter. The bags take up to 1000 years to degrade, and when they do, they break up into smaller and smaller bits, never going away. They are deadly to wildlife, which mistake them for food or become entangled in them. Turtles, whales, seals, birds, and fish are the most susceptible to ingesting them, suffering a painful death as the plastic wraps around their intestines or they choke to death. Some animal species, already threatened due to issues such as overfishing or habitat loss, could face extinction.
Plastic bags also don’t biodegrade; they simply break into ever smaller plastic bits, never disappearing from our environment. These small bits, known as micro-plastics, attract toxins and carcinogens, which eventually enter the food chain, and displace food supplies in the world’s oceans.
“Like urban tumbleweeds, plastic bags end up airborne in trees, clogging storm drains and polluting our oceans. Every time we utilize a plastic bag we are contributing to leaving our planet worse for the generations that will follow us,” said State Representative Lori A. Ehrlich, (D-Marblehead), the lead sponsor of H696 “This legislation will put Massachusetts on the map as a beacon for responsible consumer behavior and environmental stewardship.”
“Over 380 billion plastic bags are used every year by Americans, and only about 5 percent are recycled. The widespread use of plastic bags has serious consequences for the environment: littering our coastlines, using up the equivalent of billions of gallons of petroleum and killing millions of animals every year. It’s time to ban this dangerous product and encourage the use of more sustainable alternatives,” said State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).
“This is a major step in the right direction for Massachusetts. With this ban, we would become one of the leaders among governments acting to protect the world we live in. We don’t have to accept plastic bags choking our oceans, rivers, birds, and animals. We can start being part of the solution,” stated Representative Denise Provost (D-Somerville).
Reps. Ehrlich, Provost, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge each sponsored similar bills to ban plastic bags.
Numerous cities and countries around the world have enacted plastic bag bans. In fact, Nantucket, Massachussetts was one of the first in the world, enacted over 20 years ago. In the last year, Brookline and Manchester-by-the-Sea joined with their own plastic bag bans. Every county in Hawaii has passed a ban, but passage of this bill would make Massachusetts the first state to pass a statewide ban.
This bill would ban single use plastic bags from chains and large stores and would require paper bags to be comprised of recycled material. Many grocery stores have already implemented these policies, so this would not have a significant impact.
The Massachusetts Sierra Club and other public interest organizations have been attempting to pass statewide legislation to ban plastic bags. “Public support for banning bags is overwhelming,” said Phil Sego of the Sierra Club. “Readily available sustainable substitutes make banning plastic bags a common-sense policy to protect the environment.”
“Nothing we use for five minutes should harm our oceans for generations to come,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment Massachusetts. “It’s time to say goodbye to the plastic bag.”
Also testifying in favor of a ban were Women Working for Oceans (W2O), Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Brookline Town Meeting Member Clint Richmond.
Article submitted for publication to the Boston Globe by The Sierra Club