Metro

Mayor Walsh signs ban on plastic bags for Boston

Anticipating a ban, Deborah Branting of the Back Bay has been stockpiling plastic bags.
Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff
Anticipating a ban, Deborah Branting of the Back Bay has been stockpiling plastic bags.

Mayor Martin J. Walsh said on Sunday that he had signed a measure banning single-use plastic bags in Boston, despite worries the city’s low-income residents and seniors would bear the financial brunt of the new rules. “My concern about [banning] plastic bags is just the cost,” Walsh said. “I just think the cost is going to be shifted over to the consumer.”

Boston joins 59 other municipalities statewide and hundreds across the nation, including Seattle and Washington, D.C., in adopting a ban.

It takes effect next December, giving stores and shoppers time to prepare.

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Walsh’s decision ends more than a year of debate over whether to eliminate disposable shopping bags and steer businesses and consumers toward reusable ones. The goal, supporters say, is to reduce litter and cut the amount of plastic in the environment.

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Opponents included representatives of the paper and plastic industries as well as critics who say the measure will amount to a tax on the poor. The Retailers Association of Massachusetts also opposed the ban.

“Are we disappointed? Yes. Were we surprised? No,” said Jon Hurst, the organization’s president.

“Imagine being an out-of-state tourist and going to Faneuil Hall, Quincy Market during the holiday season and having to pay for a bag. . . . That just sends the wrong message, in our mind.”

On Sunday, Walsh repeated his concerns about the poor but said he signed the bill because of its environmental benefits, such as reducing litter.

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“In theory, it’s great for the environment. There’s no question about that,” he said.

The ban would encourage shoppers to use reusable bags or pay a 5 cent fee for either a thicker, compostable plastic bag or a larger paper bag with handles. Stores would collect the fees to help offset the cost of using more-expensive bags.

Carmen Osorio, 53, who went shopping with her family at the Stop & Shop in Dorchester’s South Bay Center Sunday, said she sometimes doesn’t have enough money to pay for groceries, and a bag fee would add to that stress.

“I worked all my life, and I think it’s not fair,” said the Puerto Rico native, who lives in Dorchester. “Not everybody [who] goes to do grocery shopping is rich.”

Deborah Branting, 65, of the Back Bay, said she will buy paper bags after the ban goes into effect. She already has a stockpile of plastic bags that she uses around the house.

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“I’ve been hoarding them since I knew this was happening,” she said, pointing to her grocery cart, adding that the ban would be “an unnecessary inconvenience for people who are financially less fortunate.”

But Louis Sigaren Jr., a 26-year-old Roxbury resident, said he favors the ban for environmental reasons. “We have a bunch of bags in the streets. I’m always dodging bags when I’m driving,” he said as he walked to his car. “We’ll have less of that in Boston, so I think it’s good.”

Claire Newcombe, 28, said she usually shops at Trader Joe’s, which offers paper bags. Picking paper bags is a “simple choice,” the Back Bay resident said. “It’s better for the environment.”

Newcombe, who was at Stop & Shop with her husband, said she supports the plastic bag ban and will begin bringing reusable bags from home.

A proposal for a statewide ban is pending before the Legislature.

City Council president Michelle Wu said supporters of the ban have also been concerned about its potential impact on residents and families who struggle to make ends meet.

She said that over the next year, city officials will work to partner with businesses and organizations to help provide reusable bags to those with limited incomes. She said support for the ban came from residents of all income levels.

“This is truly an example of a public process that considered and weighed multiple viewpoints and arrived at an outcome that will be for the long-term good for the city and residents,” Wu said.

Councilor Matt O’Malley, the measure’s lead sponsor, praised his colleagues and Walsh for supporting the ban in a statement to the Globe on Sunday. He said he looks forward to working with all stakeholders to implement the ban and “ensure that every Bostonian has access to reusable bags.”

The clock had been ticking for Walsh to make a decision. The City Council unanimously approved the measure on Nov. 29, and Walsh had until Monday to sign or veto it. Had he not taken action, it would have automatically become law.

Walsh said he signed the ban at 4 p.m. Friday.

If Walsh had vetoed it, the veto could have been overturned with a two-thirds council vote. The body held its last meeting of its two-year term Wednesday and doesn’t meet again until Jan. 1, when a new council is sworn in, including three new members.

Hard-fought lobbying on the measure continued in the days leading up to Walsh’s decision.

Jack Hart, a former state senator and a lobbyist for Novolex Inc., a plastic and paper bags manufacturing and recycling company, questioned the ban’s constitutionality and urged Walsh to veto it.

Matt Seaholm, executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an industry group, criticized the ban’s costs in a statement Sunday:

“As it stands now, this is an unconstitutional tax that will be particularly harmful to seniors and low-income families in Boston. Additionally, it incentivizes the use of products that can be worse for the environment than 100-percent recyclable, highly reused plastic retail bags.”

Environmental groups pushed for the ban.

Rickie Harvey, a cofounder of the grass-roots organizations BYO Bag Boston and West Roxbury Saves Energy, praised Walsh’s decision and said in a statement that the groups’ members “now stand ready” to help implement the ban.

Milton Valencia of the Globe staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report. John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com. J.D. Capelouto can be reached at jd.capelouto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jdcapelouto.