Back to Reduce: Groups call for renewed push to reduce waste

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Back to Reduce: Groups call for renewed push to reduce waste

BOSTON — In a survey of 15 Massachusetts cities, researchers at MASSPIRG found that, despite Gov. Charlie Baker’s July 13 executive order that allowed for the reinstatement of plastic bag bans and the use of reusable bags again, local delays and confusion remain in some jurisdictions. 

Of the 15 cities studied — all of which have plastic bag bans on their books — only two, Haverhill and Lynn, immediately reinstated their single-use plastic bag ban. Boston, Lowell, Newton, Somerville and Brookline established dates by which plastic bags will once again be banned (although Brookline says it will ‘revisit’ on Sept. 30). Worcester, Plymouth and Malden could not be reached after several attempts. Framingham’s policy is “under discussion,” according to a Framingham Dept. of Public Health official, and Quincy has not yet established a date for reinstatement. Watertown will allow a 30- to 45-day grace period after a public announcement of the change, but has not decided when that period will begin. Cambridge delayed allowing reusable bags but permitted them as of July 25, and while they never allowed for single use plastic, they delayed their 10 cent fee on “compostable plastic bags” and paper bags until Aug. 10.

“We understand and have no quarrel with the fact that some cities and towns allowed for a ‘rollout’ to re-start their plastic bag bans,” said Janet Domenitz, Executive Director of MASSPIRG. “But we are troubled to see there is still some confusion and uncertainty on returning to this important policy, Our main message is that we cannot let the pandemic lead us to more waste, or let the plastic industry propaganda that disposables are ‘healthy’ prevail.” 

As of July 2020, 139 cities and towns in Massachusetts have local regulations reducing single use plastic bags. In March, during the early stages of the pandemic, when little was known about how the disease spreads, Gov. Baker issued an executive order suspending the plastic bag bans and prohibiting consumers from bringing reusable bags into stores. By the end of May, various organizations, including the Conservation Law Foundation, Massachusetts Sierra Club, Environment Massachusetts and MASSPIRG, were advocating a return to the bag bans and use of reusable bags based on various academic and medical research showing that bags were not a source of transmission. On July 13, Gov. Baker rescinded the March executive order, thus allowing for plastic bans to take effect and for the consumers to bring reusable bags to the store.

“Plastic waste is polluting our environment and harming birds, sea turtles, and other wildlife,” said Ben Hellerstein, Environment Massachusetts state director. “During this pandemic, while we spend time closer to home, we’re reminded of how special Massachusetts’ environment is — and how worthy it is of protection. The sooner we get back to reusable bags, the better, for our oceans, our beaches, our parks and everyone who visits them.”

As part of the study, MASSPIRG Policy Intern Chanah Haigh contacted each city surveyed at least three times, and reviewed city websites to assess the current state of each municipality’s plastic and reusable bag policies.