The ordinance committee will meet on Wednesday, February 11, to continue work on the plastic bag ban. The hearing will be held at 5:30 pm in the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall. [Note: This meeting has been rescheduled for Thursday, March 12 at 5:30 pm in the Sullivan Chamber]
I want to say thank you once again to the hundreds of residents who wrote to the council in support of the plastic bag ban last month. After seven years of study, and with leadership from former city councillor (now state representative) Marjorie Decker, the Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance was advanced out of committee and "passed to a second reading" by the city council last year.
But in response to concerns that were raised by the council, an alternate version of the bill was introduced in October. This version added some promising new elements (such as a fee for paper bags), but according to the Massachusetts Sierra Club, it also opened the door to possible loopholes (by weakening the definition of what qualifies as a "reusable" plastic bag, for example).
With two versions of the bag ban before us at the very same time, I concluded that the most constructive way to proceed would be to preserve the original bill and consider the alternate version as a series of amendments. On February 11, we will meet as a body to vote on each of 13 proposed amendments to the original bill.
Most of the proposed changes are practical improvements to the original bill — however, there's at least one red flag: Amendment #5 would relax the definition of a "reusable plastic bag" by reducing its minimum thickness, from 3.0 mils to 2.25 mils.
I prefer the originally-proposed standard. Last week, aldermen in the City of Newton voted unanimously to approve a plastic bag ban that defines 3.0 mils as the minimum thickness of a reusable plastic bag. And in California, there have been cases where the more relaxed standard made it possible for the plastics industry to defeat the intent of the ban.
Finally, it's also important to reaffirm the reason for the bag ban: single-use plastic checkout bags are typically made from a polyethylene that is not biodegradable. Instead, the bags break into small pieces, called microplastics, which are consumed by animals and litter the ground. The bags have been shown to release toxins into the soil and water, threatening the food chain and presenting danger to both humans and animals.
All those who are interested in this matter are welcome to attend (and offer public comment) at the hearing on February 11.