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    Should Marshfield ban the retail use of plastic bags?

     A woman walks with a plastic bag in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, May 14, 2014. A bill to make California the first in the nation to impose a statewide ban on plastic bags at certain retailers passed a key legislative committee on Wednesday, but the legislation faces staunch opposition from bag manufacturers working to stem a flood of local bans meant to end clutter in landfills and beaches. (AP Photo)


    Jeanne Ryer

    Marshfield resident, retired Norwell adult services librarian

    Jeanne Ryer.

    Marshfield, like 55 other Massachusetts cities and towns before ours, should pass a bylaw to phase out single-use carryout plastic bags and encourage the use of reusable bags.

    Recyclable paper bags and plastic bags for meats, fish, produce or other wet products, and plastic bags for dry cleaning and newspapers would still be available. Concerns about the spread of bacteria from reusable bags can be addressed by washing bags and placing raw meats and produce in the plastic bags provided for that purpose by the stores.

    Single-use plastic bags are a hidden cost to consumers and have significant negative impacts on the marine and land environment of coastal communities. They contribute to the potential death of marine and terrestrial animals through ingestion and entanglement, clog storm drains, and litter roadsides and waterways. Additonally, the manufacture of these bags requires the use of enormous amounts of nonrenewable, polluting fossil fuel.


    Plastic bags cannot be recycled in our curbside recycling bins in part because they foul the machinery, and only a small percentage get returned to stores for recycling. An estimated 1 trillion plastic bags are disbursed globally each year, and Marshfield’s contribution is an alarming 13 million, calculated from a formula used by Los Angeles in a 2013 environmental impact report.

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    All plastics over time break down into microplastics, which have already entered our rivers and oceans and are being ingested by marine animals and therefore by those who eat them, with unknown health consequences. Mass Audubon, the North River Commission, and the North and South Rivers Watershed Association have endorsed the proposed Marshfield ban as an effort to protect our environment.

    State legislation to reduce the use of plastic bags has been introduced by both the House and the Senate over the past several years, and are currently being discussed on Beacon Hill. This would be the best and most consistent way to proceed, but there is no assurance that a bill will pass.

    Rather than wait for the state to act, Marshfield should join the 55 cities and towns, including most recently, Plymouth and Duxbury, that have moved ahead on their own.


    Brian Houghton

    Senior vice president, Massachusetts Food Association

    Brian Houghton.

    The argument behind banning plastic bags is that they reduce plastic waste. However, plastic is plastic in any form, so should other types of plastic items be included in a ban? And what about other materials?


    Although plastic bags are the “poster child” for waste, it doesn’t make them the worst culprit in our throwaway society. Our association supports a comprehensive statewide approach to deal with not only plastic bags, but all commodities in the waste stream, including glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper.

    In municipalities such as Duxbury and Plymouth that have banned plastic bags, retailers must deal with varied restrictions that are more burdensome because they differ by municipality. A statewide approach would also ease that burden.

    When plastic bags are banned, shoppers must choose between reusable and paper bags -- most use paper ones because they forget their reusable bags. But paper bags arguably create a larger carbon footprint than plastic ones, taking more energy to produce. Also, people preferring plastic bags can simply bring their shopping to another community that allows them.

    Most food stores take back all plastic bags and wrappings for recycling, including competitors’ bags. If plastic bags are banned, these recycling programs would need to be altered. If a switch to compostable or marine-degradable bags is enacted, these bags aren’t recyclable.

    Our members worked with the state on a first-in-the-nation initiative to reduce the use of paper and plastic bags at more than 380 stores. The state confirmed our industry met its goal of paper and plastic bag reduction by 33 percent three years earlier than scheduled -- in 2010 rather than 2013. These practices continue, with food stores recycling their cardboard, plastics, and shrink wrap. Our industry was the first to begin formal efforts to reduce the amount of its organic waste going into landfills and was well ahead of the curve when it became mandatory in 2014.


    A statewide ban on plastic bags, if it is to be implemented, should be fair and workable for all stores. Our association is working toward this goal. However, we continue to believe the best solution would be a ban that addresses all waste, not just plastic bags.

    Last week’s argument: Should National Football League teams punish players for kneeling during the national anthem?

    Yes: 87 percent (46 votes)

    No: 13 percent (7 votes)

    As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at