After more than a year of debate, the Boston City Council is poised to vote on banning single-use plastic shopping bags at checkout lines across the city, an effort to reduce litter and encourage environmentally friendly alternatives.
Under the proposal, shoppers would have to bring reusable bags with them to supermarkets, pharmacies, and corner stores or pay 5 cents each for thicker plastic bags that could be used more than once.
The measure’s lead sponsor, Councilor Matt O’Malley, on Monday urged his colleagues to move forward on a vote, which could be held as soon as Wednesday. “Litter affects every neighborhood, and this is one way we can clean it,” he said, describing the measure as central to the city’s environmental efforts. “You need only walk, bike, drive in any neighborhood in Boston and you’ll see them.”
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, whose administration had opposed the ordinance last year while it planned its own environmental agenda, said through a spokesperson he was still reviewing the proposal.
Roughly 60 communities across Massachusetts and hundreds more nationwide have banned single-use plastic bags. Environmental groups say they gobble up fossil fuels, are not easily recyclable, and invariably end up as litter, clinging to fences and tree branches. The use for a bag could be mere seconds, from the checkout line to being tossed after a customer leaves the store.
Under O’Malley’s proposal, paper bags with handles would be subjected to the 5 cent fee. Businesses could still use typical paper bags without handles (with no fee) and thicker plastic bags, similar to those handed out at book stores, for the 5 cent fee. Businesses would keep the proceeds of the 5-cent fee.
Opponents say the fee would effectively create a new tax for consumers, while placing a new burden on businesses. But O’Malley said the burden on consumers would be minimal. They can use recyclable bags, which some businesses hand out for free. Some stores, such as Roche Brothers and Whole Foods, also give rebates to customers who bring recyclable bags, he said.
Communities that have approved similar bans, from San Jose, Calif., to Brookline, have reported significant drops in the number of discarded bags.
In Boston, many local groups have pushed for the ban, from West Roxbury Saves Energy, a neighborhood coalition, to a group of youngsters from Dorchester who took up the cause after first hearing about the environmental dangers of plastic bags during a Girl Scouts meeting.
One of the youngsters, 11-year-old Clare Ablett, spent Monday afternoon calling city councilors for their support.
“It’s important; it affects everyone,” she said. “When people talk about fighting fossil fuels, this is a way to do that.”Milton J. Valencia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.