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Beyond bags: Cambridge eyes eliminating more single-use plastic products citywide

Cambridge might have to say goodbye to plastic straws, among other single-use items.
Cambridge might have to say goodbye to plastic straws, among other single-use items.(Joel Saget/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s not in the bag just yet, but Cambridge officials want to explore a move to widen restrictions on plastic items that customers commonly toss out after using just once.

At its regularly scheduled hearing Monday, the City Council passed a policy order asking City Manager Louis A. DePasquale to direct the city’s lawyers to work with the Department of Public Works, the Recycling Advisory Committee, and others to craft an ordinance banning single-use plastic items citywide.

According to the order, the move is part of the city’s “ambitious Zero Waste goals,” which include “achieving a trash reduction of 30% by 2020 and 80% by 2050 from 2008 levels.”

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Officials who drafted the order cited recent legislation passed in Berkeley, Calif., and Brookline that will tamp down the distribution and use of certain types of single-use plastics.

“Cambridge has an opportunity to join Berkeley and Brookline in leading the way towards a single-use plastic-free city,” the order says.

In a tweet this week following the hearing, City Councilor Quinton Zondervan, one of the policy order’s sponsors, said the vote of support from council members is the start of a larger conversation around banning plastics.

“Now, we begin a period of listening: to people with disabilities, to small businesses, to seniors,” he said. “We will work with these stakeholders to craft a policy that meets everyone’s unique needs AND moves us toward our zero waste goal.”

Officials agreed during the meeting this week that getting input from residents and business owners who would be greatly affected by the proposal is an important step in the process.

“There’s the wrong way to do the right thing,” Councilor Denise Simmons said during Monday’s hearing. “I just ask this council to be mindful as we take this approach. If we are starting the conversation, I would reach out immediately to the community and say, ‘This is what we’re thinking about,’ so we’re bringing them right along.”

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She said small entrepreneurs and “mom-and-pop” stores often don’t know about these types of proposals until they get to the implementation stage.

“I’m looking for us to really look at stakeholder involvement on the microscopic level,” she said. “We want to be as thoughtful as possible.”

The policy order states that DePasquale, the city manager, should report back to council members about the issue no later than Dec. 31.

This isn’t the first time Cambridge has had its eye on getting rid of certain single-use plastic products.

In 2015, Cambridge passed a plastic bag ban, which went into effect the following year. The new law put an end to the use of disposable checkout bags at supermarkets and retail establishments, and put Cambridge on the map as the largest city in the state to enact such a ban.

Cambridge also has a ban on polystyrene takeout containers, which impacts “all food and drink establishments that serve food or drink in single-use disposable service-ware,” according to the city’s website.


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