Plastic bag ban amendments to be considered March 12

The ordinance committee will meet on Thursday, March 12, to once again take up the matter of the plastic bag ban. The meeting will be held at 5:30 pm in the Sullivan Chamber at City Hall. If approved, this would make Cambridge the largest city on the East Coast to ban single-use plastic checkout bags.

I want to say thank you to the hundreds of residents who wrote to the council in support of the plastic bag ban back in December. 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 February.

But in response to concerns that were raised by the council last April, an alternate version of the bill was introduced in October. This version added some promising new elements (such as a fee for paper bags, Amendment #8, which I support), 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; see Amendment #5).

With two versions of the bag ban before us at the very same time, I felt that the best way to proceed would be to focus on preserving the original bill and while also scheduling a meeting to consider the alternate version as a series of itemized amendments. Tomorrow, we will meet as a body to consider some 13 proposed amendments to the original bill.

Many of the changes are practical improvements to the original bill — however, there are at least a couple of serious concerns:

  • 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 of 3.0 mils. In January, 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.
  • Amendment #4 would exempt "bags used to transport leftover or take-out food from restaurants." I am opposed to this amendment as well. It would likely exempt all fast-food restaurants and would also open the door to issues at supermarkets that offer prepared food.

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.

Here are the materials for the tomorrow's meeting:

All those who are interested in this matter are welcome to attend tomorrow's hearing. Public comment will be heard. Alternatively, residents may email the full council at and include the City Clerk at to have comments included in the official record.

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