Massachusetts’ “re-opening” should include sustainability measures

Media Contacts

Statement: Massachusetts’ “re-opening” should include sustainability measures

Restrictions on plastic, other single use items, will make the Bay State healthier, cleaner

BOSTON —    In the wake of Gov. Charlie Baker’s plans to move forward with a phased “re-opening” of Massachusetts while dealing with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, MASSPIRG Executive Director Janet Domenitz and Massachusetts Sierra Club Executive Director Deb Pasternak issued the following statement:

“When the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) struck Massachusetts full-on in early March, the state’s response was swift and sweeping. Many of the changes, including institutions closing, stay-at-home orders and quickly setting up emergency field hospitals, likely saved lives. We were (and still are) in an unprecedented moment.

A central question now, in the wake of Gov. Baker’s announcement on Monday that the state is beginning a “phased re-opening,” is this: Will we let special interests dictate what’s best for our state? Or will we move forward in our well-trod march toward a cleaner, more sustainable future? If we are doing the latter, we need to:

  • restart redemption of deposit cans and bottles, 
  • lift the Public Health restrictions order on reusable bags and restore municipal regulation of shopping bags including fees on single-use bags in applicable cities
  • steer away from disposables, trash, and the litter and waste that follows in our everyday lives.

“Not long after the temporary waivers on bottle redemption and prohibitions on reusable bags were put in place, a New York Times reporter wrote an extensive piece with this as her main thesis: ‘The plastic bag industry, battered by a wave of bans nationwide, is using the coronavirus crisis to try to block laws prohibiting single-use plastic.’

“In specific regard to the move to curtail reusable bags, Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of its Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, told the Boston Globe: It’s unclear what, if any, danger the mix of popular cotton, canvas, and nylon bags actually pose.’  He added:  ‘Pardon the expression, but it seems like grasping at straws.’

We need facts, science and data to inform our decisions; not rumors, industry lobbyists and panic. In fact, over the last two months, leading medical professionals and scientists have been making connections between the pandemic and the unsustainable, fossil-fuel extracting, over-consuming ways.

“While many see issues like climate change and biodiversity loss as far from what’s going on right now … I see this as the time to talk about it,” Dr. Aaron Bernstein, Boston Children’s Hospital pediatrician and Harvard Medical School professor told the Christian Science Monitor.‘Climate solutions are, in fact, pandemic solutions.’

The rush back to single-use plastic bags is particularly ill-advised given that COVID-19 lasts three times longer on plastic than on paper-based material according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

As the state phases in re-opening, it’s time to go back to the future and reduce and reuse, not dispose and toss. We hope that city, town and state officials will reinstate redemption of deposit containers, as Connecticut has already done, and lift the ban on reusable bags as quickly as they can.”