a plastic bag is caught on tall grasses in field

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

Legislation that would ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags at all retail and food establishments is now before the House Committee on Ways and Means.

In July, the bill (H. 3945) was reported out of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, which made changes to a bill that was filed early this year.

The MMA testified in support of a statewide ban at the first hearing on the original bill in April, citing the precedent of more than 100 cities and towns that have already passed local bylaws or ordinances intended to curb the use of plastic bags. The MMA testimony noted that plastic bags get caught in machinery at recycling processing facilities, leading to breakdowns, delays and increased costs that are passed along to municipalities.

The MMA expressed concerns, however, about language that would nullify any existing local bylaw or ordinance related to the banning of plastic bags. The MMA cited a potential outcome where a statewide plastic bag ban could be weaker than some existing local laws. For example, the statewide bill would eliminate paper bag fees currently in place in cities including Boston and Cambridge.

The original statewide plastic bag bill included a 10 cent fee on paper bags at all retail and food establishments, with some specified exceptions, such as for the protection of prescription medication. The fee was intended to discourage the easy replacement of one type of disposable bag with another, which has its own negative environmental impacts, and to help offset the additional cost of paper bags that retailers would need to supply.

The bill released by the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee, however, does not include the paper bag fee, creating a major sticking point for environmental advocacy groups. These groups cite data showing that without a small fee on paper bags to accompany a ban on plastic bags, consumers will simply switch to using paper bags.

The MMA has joined a coalition of environmental and other advocacy groups in opposing the elimination of the paper bag fee and expressing other concerns about the current version of the legislation.

Written by