The Honorable Anne Gobi, Senate Chair
The Honorable William Smitty Pignatelli, House Chair
Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture
State House, Boston

Dear Senator Gobi, Representative Pignatelli, and Distinguished Committee Members,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association appreciates this opportunity to offer comments in support of H. 771 and S. 462, An Act Reducing Plastic Bag Pollution.

In their testimony today, our partner organizations are outlining the environmental and health impacts of single-use plastic bags. The MMA would like to highlight the impact that plastic bags have on our municipalities, which pay for and mediate the hauling of recyclable materials.

The changes in the international recycling marketplace precipitated by China’s National Sword policy have hit Massachusetts municipalities hard. Since the new policy went into effect a year ago, municipal officials have informed us repeatedly that the cost per ton to haul and process recyclable materials has risen sharply – in some cases to $100 per ton or more.

At our Annual Meeting in January, the MMA membership cast a unanimous vote to adopt a resolution outlining local officials’ commitment to taking bold action to address the challenges facing our municipalities due to this recycling crisis. We are engaged in efforts to update the state’s Solid Waste Master Plan and to promote alternatives to the recycling status quo, such as product stewardship and extended producer responsibility.

We believe that a statewide ban on providing or selling single-use plastic bags at retail establishments would be a step in the right direction toward reforming our solid waste and recycling systems, and addressing some of the financial burden that has been placed on municipalities.

When plastic bags contaminate the recycling stream, they are difficult to remove and frequently become stuck in or damage the processing machinery. The extra time, labor and equipment it takes to repair these machines when they break down or are jammed with plastic refuse results in extra costs being passed on to municipalities. In communities that have implemented recycling education campaigns for their residents, recycling coordinators instruct haulers not to pick up bins when residents mistakenly bag their recyclables in plastic bags or throw individual plastic bags into the recycling bin.

While we strongly support education efforts that teach and remind residents of proper recycling habits, a statewide ban on plastic bags would go a step further toward disincentivizing the use and misuse of these bags – decreasing costs to municipalities, and cleaning up our communities and the surrounding natural environment.

Nearly 100 municipalities have paved the way for a statewide ban on plastic bags by passing local bylaws and ordinances that either ban plastic bags outright or impose a fee on plastic and/or paper bags. We do have some concern about language in the legislation as currently written that would preempt and nullify existing local bylaws and ordinances if a statewide ban were to take effect. We respectfully request additional time to review this language and offer suggestions to the committee, if needed, to make sure that this language would not unintentionally preempt or erode helpful public policies.

We deeply appreciate your consideration of this legislation – it is important to provide cities, towns and taxpayers with relief and assistance in dealing with the high cost of collecting and processing solid waste and recyclable materials. Removing single-use plastic bags would be a solid step in the right direction, as dozens of communities across the state have already demonstrated.

Please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or MMA Legislative Analyst Ariela Lovett at alovett@mma.org at any time if you have any questions or would like additional comment.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO