Around New England

Small Retailers Feeling the Brunt of Boston’s War on Plastic Bags

December 14, 2018

Starting today, retail stores with 20,000 square feet or more in Boston have to stop providing thin-film single-use plastic bags to customers unless they have gotten a temporary waiver from the city.

They’ll also have to charge customers at least 5 cents per bag, whatever kind of bag they offer.

By July 1, 2019, all stores in Boston will have to comply with the new ordinance.

Store owners aren’t happy about it.

“While Boston faces many challenges that deserve the attention of Mayor Walsh and other elected leaders, resources will now be diverted to make sure residents don’t use the common plastic grocery bag,” the Boston Convenience Store Association said in a written statement, according to Boston Business Journal. “The heavier bags retailers will now stock will result in more expensive grocery store visits for our customers. Unfortunately, this will hurt those who can afford it the least the most.”

The new city ordinance is designed to reduce pollution.

“The production, use and disposal of single-use plastic bags have significant adverse impacts on the environment and their light weight makes them particularly susceptible to air currents that land them in the streets, gutters, abandoned lots, and trees throughout the City …” the new Boston ordinance says. “The City of Boston desires to conserve resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, waste, and marine pollution and to protect the public health and welfare of its residents.”

The ordinance also says that “Plastic bags contribute to a significant burden on the City’s solid waste disposal and single stream recycling systems.”

The ordinance allows recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags capable of biodegrading “at a rate consistent with known compostable materials,” and reusable bags that are durable and at least 3 one-thousandths of an inch thick if plastic.

But each type of bag will cost customers 5 cents, which will appear on a separate line item on their receipts.

Boston and Cambridge are the only municipalities of the approximately 88 in the state that have banned thin-film plastic bags, according to William Rennie, vice president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.

“A lot of people might say, ‘It’s only 5 cents’ …” Rennie told Boston Business Journal. “Here’s another 5-10 cents that consumers may not see if they’re shopping online. Consumers can be very sensitive to little things.”

The ordinance was sponsored by Boston city councilors Matt O’Malley (D-Jamaica Plain), who represents West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, parts of Roslindale and Roxbury, and the Back of the Hill (a portion of Mission Hill); and Michelle Wu (D-Roslindale), an at-large councilor who represents the whole city.

The Boston City Council voted 12-0 for the ban on Wednesday, November 29, 2017.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh initially expressed concern about the 5-cents-a-bag charge, especially how it would affect senior citizens on fixed incomes. Walsh signed the ordinance Sunday, December 17, 2017.

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