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Boston takes aim at thin, flimsy plastic bags

The Boston City Council is mulling an ordinance that would restrict businesses’ use of flimsy plastic bags that harm the environment in favor of thicker, more durable ones. David L. Ryan

Could those flimsy plastic bags used at the checkout line be a thing of the past in Boston? Councilor Matt O’Malley hopes so. He is proposing a measure that would restrict them in favor of thicker or reusable totes. O’Malley, who is co-sponsoring the effort with Councilor Michelle Wu, plans to bring the matter before the council at its meeting Wednesday.

Q. What’s the point?

The light, single-use plastic bags often flutter away and clog landfills, litter trees, and dirty abandoned lots, said O’Malley. The proposed measure would require retailers to curb their flimsy bag habit and protect the environment. Similar efforts have taken root in Cambridge, Somerville, and Brookline.

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Q. What would retailers do?

A. They would be required to charge patrons 5 cents for “checkout bags” that are over 3 millimeters thick, such as the kinds offered at bookstores, the councilor said. The charge would allow stores to absorb the cost of providing compostable plastic bags or recyclable paper bags and encourage patrons to bring their own totes. Supermarkets would be also encouraged to offer a nickel deduction for every bag a patron purchases, the councilor said.

Q. What’s a “checkout bag” ?

A. A checkout bag, as defined by the proposal, is offered at the point of purchase at supermarkets, restaurants, pharmacies, or any store that uses the flimsy bags. It does not include bags used to wrap frozen fish or meat, hold newspapers or wrap laundry, according to O’Malley’s filing with the city clerk. The proposed measure, if passed, does not include bazaars or festivals operated by nonprofits or religious institutions.

Q. How would the measure be enforced?

A. A retailer could be charged $50 for the first offense and $100 for the second and subsequent issue. But O’Malley said his aim is not to penalize businesses.

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Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.