Boston Moves Closer to Banning Plastic Bags

Boston could become the next major American city to ban single-use plastic bags. If enacted, the prohibition could help stoke sales of reusable branded totes in the city of 673,000 people that boasts a metro area population of 4.6 million.

Boston City Council has voted 11-0 in support of an ordinance that clamps down on single-use plastic bags. As part of the pending regulations, which would apply within Boston city limits, businesses would be required to charge a fee of at least five cents per bag to shoppers who want a thicker, compostable plastic bag. Also, shoppers could opt to incur a five-cent charge for bigger paper bags with handles.

The aim of the ordinance is to combat the pollution and environmental degradation that single-use plastic bags cause, proponents say. In addition to littering streets, parks and neighborhoods, an estimated eight million metric tons of plastic trash – bags and more – befouls the oceans annually. The waste asphyxiates marine life and impacts ocean ecosystems. It can even disrupt the food chain, environmentalists say. 

“The problem is plastic bags,” Boston City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who spearheaded the ban proposal, said in an article published by The Boston Globe. “These plastic bags do not end up in the dedicated recycling bins at your local Whole Foods or Roche Brothers supermarkets. They end up in our streets, in our gutters, tangled up in our wildlife and our marine ecosystem.”

City Council intends to have the plastic bag rules go into effect about a year from now. That would give businesses and residents a chance to adapt to the changes, proponents believe.

Nonetheless, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh has yet to sign off on the measure. In the past, Walsh has expressed opposition to a version of a proposed plastic bag prohibition, believing it would heap greater economic burden on low-income households and small businesses, EcoWatch reported. Still, even if Walsh were to veto the ordinance passed last week, City Council could override the objection on the strength of its 11-0 vote, according to The Globe.

Samantha Ormsby, deputy press secretary for Walsh, told Counselor this week that the mayor is reviewing the proposal. There was no timeframe available on when Walsh might sign or oppose the measure.

Lobbying groups for plastic bags and paper bags have panned Boston City Council for passing the ordinance. “It is a shame that city councilors pushed through a tax that will hit seniors and low-income families the hardest in the middle of the holiday shopping season,” Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, told The Globe. The alliance represents the plastic bag manufacturing and recycling sector.

Should the ban go into effect, more Boston residents could begin carrying reusable totes in an effort to avoid bag fees. Businesses, nonprofits and other organizations that give, sell or offer, as part an incentive program, reusable branded totes can capitalize on what could prove a burgeoning marketing opportunity. That spells sales potential for promotional product distributors.

In recent years, plastic bag bans have become increasingly widespread. In Massachusetts alone, other towns to have enacted restrictions include Brookline and Cambridge. A statewide ban is up for consideration in the Bay State legislature as well.