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Cambridge headed for vote on plastic bag ban

City also considering fee for paper ones

Yoon S. Byun/Globe staff

When it comes to environmental concerns, Cambridge City Councilor Dennis Carlone’s latest plan is in the bag.

With an eye already on polystyrene prohibition, Cambridge officials have shifted their attention toward a ban on thin, plastic checkout bags at supermarkets and shops.

Carlone doesn’t want to stop there. He wants customers to pay a fee if they opt for recyclable paper products when purchasing items at grocery stores and retail establishments.

“It’s really the time for finally dealing with these issues,” Carlone said. “Plastic bags don’t decompose . . . they are toxic.”

Dubbed the “Bring Your Own Bag” bill — or BYOB — the goal of the proposed ordinance is to turn Cambridge into the first municipality in the state requiring retailers to charge for paper bags, while at the same time stressing the importance of reusable canvas or fabric bags.


“We are trying to encourage people to not even use paper bags. But that’s an option that is still better than plastic bags,” Carlone said.

Last week, a special committee voted to send the proposal to the City Council for a final vote.

That vote could come as soon as March 30, Carlone said.

“I’m quite optimistic that this will pass,” he said.

Retailers would have up to one year to comply.

If passed, customers would be subject to a 10 cent fee per paper bag when checking out, if they don’t bring their own bags.

That money, Carlone said, would go back to store owners, not the city.

While there has been considerable support, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents companies that manufacture and recycle plastic bags, has voiced concerns.

“Bans and taxes that hurt businesses and consumers are the wrong approach for Cambridge: recycling and recycling education is the solution,” Mindi Mebane, manager of the manufacturer alliance, said in a statement.


Brian Houghton, vice president of the Massachusetts Food Association, a trade group for the supermarket industry, said bag bans can present challenges for businesses.

He added that Cambridge’s plan for paper bag fees could also drive customers to stores outside of the city.

“It might force some business out of town,” Houghton said.

A version of the ordinance was first floated in 2007, but failed.

Since then, it has gone through significant changes and amendments, including the addition of the paper bag fees.

While Cambridge would become the first to force retailers to charge for paper bags, a growing roster of cities and towns have versions of a plastic bag ban, including Manchester-by-the-Sea, Brookline, and Newton.

“I just think people realize that this is very much something that is not necessary for our daily lives, especially when you look at damage that it causes,” said Emily Norton, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club, which backed the proposal.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com.