Testimony in favor of Banning Plastic Bags in Boston

MASSPIRG urges Boston City Council to support the bag ban. Single use plastic bags are the shameful hallmark of a society that has become over dependent on things we don’t need. Nothing we use for five minutes should end up polluting our environment for hundreds of years.

Testimony in favor of Banning Single-Use Plastic Bags in Boston

Thank you to the honorable members of the Boston City Council for the opportunity to deliver this testimony. My name is Janet Domenitz, and I am the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG), a statewide, membership-based, not-for-profit advocacy organization promoting the public interest in Massachusetts for 45 years. For all of that time, we have been proponents of the 3 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, and for the last 10 years the end of that tagline has been: all the way to zero waste. As such, I am here today to support a plastic bag ban in Boston.

Two minute testimony is not the time or place to parse the particulars of policy, so I am going to briefly review the top 10 reasons, which I have attempted to categorize, that we support this ban.

In no particular order:

#1-Reduce Waste:  Approximately 100 billion single use plastic bags are used by consumers in the United States each year.  If they somehow magically disappeared into thin air after use, we might not be here today, pushing for this ban. But they do not disappear,  of course, they cause tremendous problems for our environment, our public health, our public works, and our economy.

#2-Reduce Waste: According to the Center for Biological Diversity, each plastic bag is used for an average of 12 minutes before they are disposed, and the vast majority of them are disposed. They are like a nightmare version of Snapchat, because after their extremely brief life, they stick around and cause significant damage.

#3-Reduce Waste: We do not need single use plastic bags. They were only introduced in this country in the 1970’s. We had a civilized, modern society before these bags became part of everyday commercial life, and we need to move away from them.

#4-Reduce pollution: According to many different sources, it takes more than 500 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. The bags don’t break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment.

#5-Reduce pollution: Continuing on the theme of the life of a plastic bag, many of them end up as litter in our oceans. Today billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences, called ‘gyres’ making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces.

#6-Reduce pollution:  Plastic bags are made of fossil fuels.  The more plastic bags are manufactured, the more we are using fossil fuels.  The amount of petroleum it takes to make a plastic bag would drive a car several hundred feet; 14 bags worth would equal a mile.

#7-Promote the public interest: In almost every municipality, state, or even countries which have considered or adopted plastic bans, you find the opponents representing huge industries.  Manufacturers of plastic, supermarket chains, the petrochemical industry all have pushed hard against citizen initiatives to promote bans.  Yet citizens time and again promote and win bans, most recently in the state of California, where the measure was passed by the Legislature, then put on the ballot for repeal by industry interests. The repeal was soundly defeated.

#8-Good public policy: Chicago, DC, LA, San Francisco are among the major cities which have taken steps to ban or place fees on single use plastic bags. More than 10% of the cities and towns in MA (40, at last count) have taken this step. The country of Ireland has done it.  Good policy is moving in this direction.

#9-Save money:  It stands to reason that cleaning up plastic bag waste and cleaning it out of storm drains, among other places, costs money. One study citing data from the California Integrated Waste Management Board, noted that San Jose alone spends “at least $3 million annually to clean plastic bags from creeks and clogged storm drains.” [Save the Bay]

#10- Save the planet: We are, for the most part, thrifty New Englanders who care deeply  about conserving natural resources,  preserving our beautiful land and water, and living common sense, practical lives so as not to squander the planet. This is a simple, important step we can take to get us back to a common sense way of living our everyday lives.

Thank you for your consideration.



Janet Domenitz

Executive Director, MASSPIRG

Janet has been the executive director of MASSPIRG since 1990 and directs programs on consumer protection, zero waste, health and safety, public transportation, and voter participation. Janet has co-founded or led coalitions, including Earth Day Greater Boston, Campaign to Update the Bottle Bill and the Election Modernization Coalition. On behalf of MASSPIRG, Janet was one of the founding members of Transportation for Massachusetts (T4MA), a statewide coalition of organizations advocating investment in mass transit to curb climate change, improve public health and address equity. Janet serves as Chair of the Board of Directors for the Consumer Federation of America and serves on the Common Cause Massachusetts executive committee, Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow board of directors, and Department of Environmental Protection Solid Waste Advisory Committee. For her work, Janet has received Common Cause’s John Gardner Award and Salem State University’s Friend of the Earth Award. Janet lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons, and every Wednesday morning she slow-runs the steps at Harvard Stadium with the November Project.