fb-pixel Skip to main content

Cambridge City Council approves ban on plastic bags

Globe File

When shoppers head to the checkout line in Cambridge next year, they will no longer hear the age-old question “paper or plastic?”

Cambridge city councilors voted Monday night to end the use of thin, single-use plastic bags at supermarkets and retailers, making Cambridge the largest city in the state to enact such a ban.

The measure also requires businesses to charge a 10-cent fee for paper bags, a move Councilor Dennis Carlone said will further encourage people to bring their own bags.

The move faced some industry opposition, but supporters said the environmental benefits outweighed any inconvenience it might cause shoppers.


“All in all, I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Carlone. “We somehow survived without plastic before, and we will do it again.”

Now that the ordinance, known as “Bring Your Own Bag,” has passed, storeowners have until March 30, 2016, to deplete their current stock of plastic bags. Businesses could face $300 fines if they continue to give out plastic bags after that.

Officials discussed the ban on plastic bags for several years before it was finally moved out of a special committee last month, setting up Monday’s vote.

Opponents have said the city’s approach is misguided.

Brian Houghton, vice president of the Massachusetts Food Association, a supermarket trade group, hadn’t seen the final language of the ordinance, but said grocery chains are struggling to comply with varying bans from city-to-city.

Stores face financial challenges “as they can only purchase and distribute paper and reusable bags, which cost more than plastic bags, weigh more, and use up more resources to create and transport,” Houghton said in an e-mail.

The new measure allows shops to ask the commissioner of public works for hardship exemptions to continue using plastic bags. Officials also said money generated from the paper bag fee will go back to storeowners, not the city.


Councilor Marc McGovern said he wished the ban had been enacted sooner, but that he’s pleased with the outcome.

“I’m glad it’s finally done, and I’m glad I got to play a part in it. It’s a great step forward for Cambridge,” said McGovern.

McGovern proposed a supplement to the legislation, which also passed, asking that the city purchase 10,000 reusable bags for lower-income residents and the elderly, making the transition easier for them. Cambridge students will design those bags in a citywide competition.

McGovern hopes the city’s efforts will push Beacon Hill toward a statewide ban on plastic bags, a move that failed last session.

Manchester-by-the-Sea, Brookline, and Newton already have plastic-bag bans in place.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.