a plastic bag is caught on tall grasses in field

A single-use plastic bag is caught on tall grasses in a field.

On Nov. 20, the Senate approved a bill that would limit the ability of retailers to provide single-use plastic bags to customers.

The bill (S. 2410) is now before the House, where a different bill (H. 3945), approved by the Joint Committee on Environment, Agriculture and Natural Resources, is under review by the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Both bills are a response to local bylaws and ordinances that ban or limit single-use bags because of their impact on the environment. The Massachusetts Chapter of the Sierra Club reports that 127 cities and towns regulate single-use plastic bags.

The two bills would impose a statewide limit on single-use bags that would apply in all cities and towns. The bills differ in how they treat bags not made from plastic.

While both bills would allow retailers to provide a recycled paper bag or a reusable bag, the Senate version would require a charge of not less than 10 cents per bag, with certain exemptions. The retailer would keep half the charge and remit the balance to the state for distribution to cities and towns to buy reusable bags for residents and to help pay for recycling, waste reduction and other related environmental programs.

In the House bill, the charge for a recycled paper bag is voluntary and the retailer would keep the full amount.

Both bills include language that would nullify current local rules that are inconsistent with a statewide ban and preclude cities and towns from taking action on bags where it is regulated by the new law. The Senate adopted an amendment during debate on the bill to provide limited protection to some already enacted local bylaws and ordinances.

The purpose of the legislation is to create a uniform set of rules governing single-use bags, an approach supported by small businesses that object to a patchwork set of rules.

While there is legislative support for some measure of preemption in order to provide consistency regarding single-use plastic bag rules across the Commonwealth, the MMA does not support the broad preemption language in these bills.

Written by