As summer begins, groups call for quick state action to ban disposable plastic checkout bags

Media Contacts

With Bay State residents and visitors out and about as summer begins, the worsening problem of plastic pollution becomes increasingly visible. The remains of briefly used and discarded items can be seen nearly everywhere in our streets, parks, lakes and beaches.Bags may seem like a small item, but consumers use on average one disposable plastic shopping bag per day. Absent existing local bans, Massachusetts residents would be using over two billion plastic shopping bags per year.

Following movement earlier in June in the state Legislature on a long-awaited bill to ban disposable plastic checkout bags in Massachusetts, leading environmental and public interest groups are calling on the Legislature to push this bill over the finish line and on to Governor Baker’s desk.

In the 13 years since a state bill on plastic checkout bags was first filed on Beacon Hill, cities and towns around the state have already enacted bans to reduce unnecessary pollution from plastic checkout bags, as well as other disposable items including polystyrene foodware, single-serving beverage bottles, and straws.

According to data compiled by the Massachusetts Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation Massachusetts Chapter, as of May 2022, 152 MA municipalities, representing two-thirds of the state’s population, have passed laws to regulate disposable plastic checkout bags. In fact, Nantucket passed the world’s first ban on plastic bags in 1990.

Clint Richmond, Executive Committee, Massachusetts Sierra Club: “We appreciate the hard work that the Environment Committee has put into these bills, which include best practices from around the state and country. The plastic pollution crisis grows every day. Microplastics are found everywhere including our lungs, our blood and even in mothers’ placentas. We urge legislative leaders to join our fellow Northeastern states by passing a bill now before the close of the formal year.”

Alex T. Vai, Volunteer Campaigns Coordinator, Surfrider Foundation MA Chapter: “We are excited that the state bag bills recently reported favorably by the Committee on the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA) might soon advance and unite the decades of work and local leadership on plastic pollution from across our state. These bills now include critical elements like a minimum charge on new bags to encourage bag reuse, up-to-date definitions of reusable bags, and support for equitable access to reusable items, which experience has shown are needed to ensure all MA residents and businesses see the environmental and economic benefits from this effort.”

Janet Domenitz, Executive Director, MASSPIRG: A plastic bag is used for an average of 12 minutes, but can persist in our environment, and pollute our communities, for generations. Nothing we use for a few minutes should threaten our health and pollute our future for hundreds of years. It’s well past time to ban the bag.

Ben Hellerstein, State Director, Environment Massachusetts: When you’re finished using a plastic bag you might throw it away — but the reality is that there is no “away” when it comes to plastic. Too many bags end up in our oceans, along with other single-use plastic products, where they can be deadly to sea turtles, whales, and many other species of wildlife. It’s time for Massachusetts to take this common-sense step to protect our oceans.

Kirstie Pecci, Director, Zero Waste Project, Conservation Law Foundation: Plastic grocery bags don’t get recycled, contaminate curbside recycling, and are entirely unnecessary. Maine, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and New York all banned them. The Rhode Island House and Senate just passed identical plastic grocery bag bans that should get  across the finish line this week. The whole country of Canada just banned plastic grocery bags – why has this taken the Commonwealth of Massachusetts so long?

The groups expressed appreciation to the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, chaired by Sen. Becca Rausch and Rep. Mindy Domb, for their diligent work and favorable reports on H.4826 An Act Relative to Plastic Bag Reduction and S.2895 An Act Eliminating Plastic Bags. Thanks are also due to Sen. Jamie Eldridge and former Rep. Lori Ehrlich, the long-time Senate and House lead sponsors of plastic bag bills in Massachusetts.