Ban the Bag, Mass!

Active | April 06 2016

Plastic Pollution

The chapter is working with our Northeast Regional Manager to help pass statewide legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags provided at point of sale in Massachusetts.

House Rep. Lori Ehrlich introduced a strong state bill to ban plastic bags in Massachusetts, which originally touted an effective date of July 1, 2017, fees on reusables and paper bags, and all out ban on plastic bags. Surfrider recommended a couple amendments to remove so-called "marine degradable" and "compostable" bag exemptions, and to add explicit penalties and remedies for noncompliance. That bill did not make it out of Assembly, but fortunately, Rep. Ehrlich and Senator Eldridge have sister bills before the General Assembly now that stand a good chance of passing.

The bill reviewed by the Environment, Natural Resources and Agricultural (ENRA) Committee contained strong language that would close the thickness loophole and encourage reusable bag use, by placing a fee on all bags given at point of sale in the state at retail establishments. The bill had a weak provision that only required retail establishments of 3K square feet or larger to comply through August 1, 2018. After August 1, 2018, single-use plastic bags would be banned, with the fee system in place for paper and reusable bags.

The redrafted bill that passed favorably out of the ENRA Committee by a vote of 13-1 on February 2, 2018, has its good and bad elements. The bad: the bill fails to provide remedy for violations of compliance, and was diluted significantly by removing the fees required for paper and reusable bags, which are essential components of working legislation to meet the goals of plastic pollution mitigation and a paradigm shift in consumer behavior away from single-use and toward sustainable re-use. Additionally, by rendering all existing municipal ordinances in Massachusetts null and void after the August 1, 2019 enactment date, many stronger bag restriction rules currently in place will be vacated upon enactment.

However, the good outweighs the bad: the bill closes the thickness loophole and bans thin-film plastic bags and paper bags that are not recyclable and made from recycled content, and specifically allows for municipalities to pass additional restrictions - such as the fees on paper that data proves are essential to incentivize the use of reusable bags- after enactment. The redrafted bill was strengthened significantly from the original draft in another section by removing the application of the law only to stores of 3,000 sq ft and larger and instead, applies to all retail and restaurant establishments - and not only in the 61 municipalities with current regulations but in all 351.

Additionally, the definition of "reusable bag" requires bags to be made of cloth or other machine-washable fabric other than polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride, which closes the thickness loophole we have seen exploited in many other areas, where bag manufacturers simply make thicker plastic bags to the new ml specification and give those thicker bags out for free, with the net result of the public continuing to use the thicker bags in a single-use manner, thereby creating even more plastic and contravening the intents of the law. Requiring bags qualifying as "reusable" to meet these machine washable specifications necessarily precludes the use of thicker plastic bags. This is a BIG win for the environment! 

This is strong legislation that we support, and it appeals to legislators across the aisle as it would be good for the environment by mitigating plastic debris and good for business by providing consistency for bag regulation for those doing business in the state. This bill would be precedent-setting, and we're working hard to try to get it passed.


The bill will now move out of Committee with a favorable report, and where it lands next will soon be decided. In the meantime, YOU can help by:

1. Send a letter of thanks to the ENRA Committee for moving this bill favorably out of Committee!  Emails for current ENRA Committee members & our Surfrider crew:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

2. Let your State House and Senate electeds know that you are happy this bill is moving forward, and that you hope they will vocally champion it moving ahead, helping usher it to passage! Not sure who your electeds are or how to reach them? Visit this site or email for help.

3. Consider writing a letter to the editor of your local MA publication, to help inform your community about this excellent opportunity and urge others to call upon their state electeds to champion this legislation (H. 2121 / S. 424). Not sure how to write or submit a letter to the editor? Give us a shout, we can help!

4. Get involved with the Surfrider Foundation Massachusetts Chapter to help lead the way on plastic pollution mitigation in Mass! The chapter meets beginning at 6:30PM on the first Wednesday of every month in Davis Square, Somerville. FMI. You can also email with any questions.


The best way to support our work is to become a member of the Surfrider Foundation.

To get more directly involved in our efforts in Massachusetts, please give our chair a shout at You can also visit our MA Chapter Facebook page to see when our next meeting or event is, and come on out!!! We need you! The ocean needs you! Get involved today!

Not sure what the big deal is with plastic bags? Learn more here:


Plastic Pollution

Rise Above Plastics is designed to eliminate the impacts of plastics in the marine environment by raising awareness about the dangers of plastic pollution and by advocating for a reduction of single-use plastics and the recycling of all plastics.

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