BOSTON – More than 20 years have passed between the time Nantucket became the first Massachusetts community to ban plastic shopping bags and Brookline became the second this week. Now, advocates hope to extend the ban statewide.
State Rep. Lori Ehrlich said Friday she plans to co-sponsor a bill to ban the bags when the new legislative session begins in January.
“Brookline is part of the momentum building around the world to get these airborne menaces out of storm drains and waterways,” said Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat.
It will be Ehrlich’s third time sponsoring similar legislation since 2009. Ehrlich said people are more educated now about how the bags pollute the environment and threaten wildlife.
But a statewide ban will face stiff resistance. Representatives of retailers and the food industry say the bags’ dangers are overstated and solutions to replace them have their own problems. They said people also like the bags because they’re convenient, cheap, waterproof and durable.
“Consumers like choice, and most consumers don’t like being told by someone else what’s best for them,” said Bill Rennie, vice president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
The plastic checkout bags were booted off Nantucket in 1990, when the town began mandating businesses use biodegradable packaging. It took 22 years (Sturbridge knocked down a similar ban in 2008) before Brookline residents overwhelmingly approved another ban Wednesday.
Ban advocates, including the Massachusetts Sierra Club, say the bags are an eyesore, take centuries to break down and inevitably blow out of the garbage bins and landfills that are supposed to contain them. The bags contaminate woodlands, waterways and storm drains, where animals from birds to whales eat them and are weakened or die, they say.
Clint Richmond, who helped push for the ban, said the bags’ environmental costs aren’t worth the benefits, especially with good alternatives such as paper and reusable bags.
“While they’re convenient, they’re not absolutely necessary and … they have, in many cases, (caused) unusual or above average harm,” he said. “Cows aren’t choking on paper bags.”