Plastic Pollution, Bag Bans
February 03 2018

Progress on the Statewide Bag Ban in Massachusetts!

by Melissa Gates

On February 2, 2018, environmental advocates rejoiced when the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA) voted 13-1 to pass an amended bag ban bill favorably out of committee. The bill's next stop will soon be decided, and if it makes it to passage in the House and Senate, Massachusetts will join the states of California and Hawaii (which has a de facto ban, due to each county within HI having a ban but not one unified state ban) in leading the way toward mitigating this needless source of plastic pollution! 

Like many political negotiation outcomes, the bill that passed out of the ENRA committee has its good and bad elements.

The bad: the bill fails to address penalty or remedy for violations of compliance, and was diluted significantly by removing the fees required for distribution of paper and reusable bags; fees are proven to be 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 in Massachusetts will be vacated upon enactment.

However, the good outweighs the bad: the bill advancing in the General Assembly closes what is known as the 'thickness loophole' and bans thin-film plastic bags and paper bags that are not recyclable and made from recycled content. The bill also specifically allows for municipalities to pass more stringent restrictions after enactment, such as incorporating the fees on single-use paper bags that data proves are essential to incentivize the use of reusable bags.

The redrafted bill was strengthened significantly from the original draft in the removing of initial application only to stores of 3,000 square feet and larger and instead, applies immediately to all retail and restaurant establishments -- not only in the 61 municipalities with current regulations, but in all 351 municipalities in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

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 then where stores give those thicker bags out for free, data demonstrates that the net result is 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 the Surfrider Foundation Massachusetts Chapter has been diligently shepherding through to this point, and will continue to help advance. The bill appeals to legislators across the aisle, as it would be good for the environment by mitigating plastic debris and good for business by providing more consistency for bag regulation. 

YOU CAN HELP!

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

1. Sending 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 so we can keep track of progress) are:

rep.smitty@mahouse.gov, anne.gobi@masenate.gov, james.eldridge@masenate.gov, julian.cyr@masenate.gov, Ryan.Fattman@masenate.gov, Mike.Rush@masenate.gov, RoseLee.Vincent@mahouse.gov, Thomas.Petrolati@mahouse.gov, Robert.Koczera@mahouse.gov, Mary.Keefe@mahouse.gov, john.velis@mahouse.gov, Christine.Barber@mahouse.gov, Dylan.Fernandes@mahouse.gov, Jack.Lewis@mahouse.gov, Donald.Berthiaume@mahouse.gov, james.kelcourse@mahouse.gov, massachusetts@surfrider.org, mgates@surfrider.org

2. If you are a Massachusetts resident, 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.

THANK YOU!

For a comprehensive history of this legislation and for campaign updates, please refer to our Ban the Bag, Mass campaign page.