Have you been to a local grocery or clothing store lately and noticed signs reminding you to bring your own shopping bag? This eco-friendly way of shopping is a growing trend in Massachusetts and the result of dozens of towns and cities taking the initiative to pass single-use plastic bag bans.
More than 100 billion plastic shopping bags are thrown away in the US each year. Plastic bags are made of nonrenewable resources, and serve as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and marine litter. Due to their low cost and convenience, retailers are often liberal with the number of bags used per customer and as a result they have become a ubiquitous part of modern day life. While it is true that a portion of plastic bags are re-used or recycled, millions of these bags end up along road sides, in waterways and floating in the ocean.
Single-use bags pose a threat to sea turtles, whales, and other marine animals that die every year from eating plastic bags they mistake for food. Because they are made from polyethylene, which is made from crude oil and natural gas, plastic bags deplete valuable and costly nonrenewable resources. When plastic bags degrade in sunlight, toxins and particles of plastic are released into the environment contaminating our soils and our water supply.
With plastic bags washing up on the shores of the most remote areas on earth, countries across the globe are taking decisive action to reduce plastic bag use. The European Union, China, Australia, Bangladesh and dozens of other countries have successfully banned or introduced a tax on disposable plastic bags. This November, California voters upheld the nation’s first statewide plastic bag ban, despite significant opposition from industry.
We have advocated over the years in support of legislation that would reduce the use of plastic bags statewide, which made it through the Senate last session but failed to pass in the House. Given the continued lack of statewide guidance, many cities and towns are taking matters into their own hands and passing plastic bag restrictions at the local level, through new bylaws and ordinances approved by Boards of Selectmen, City Councils, or at Town Meeting. Mass Audubon has supported several of these local campaigns through letters of support to campaign organizers or outreach to our members living in those towns.
More than 40 communities have now banned or significantly reduced single-use plastic bags, from Williamstown in Western Massachusetts to cities like Cambridge and Somerville to Framingham, the largest town in the state. The City of Boston is also now considering bringing up an ordinance for review.
Let’s pull out our best tote bags and keep the momentum going!
For more resources visit the website of the Mass Green Network, with whom we have been coordinating in support of these local efforts.