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The Argument: Should plastic bags be banned at our stores?

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Should Massachusetts institute a statewide ban on the use of plastic bags by retailers?


Jennifer E. Benson

Democratic state representative from Lunenberg

Jennifer E. Bensonhandout

In 1991, when I lived in my first apartment in Manchester, N.H., I bought two reusable grocery bags at my local Hannaford Supermarket. Just last year one of them broke, and after 23 years of use I had to retire it. Over the last 24 years, reusable shopping bags have become more commonplace as more and more people opt to reuse rather than rely on the convenience of the standard polyethylene film grocery bag.

But back in 1991, very few people used reusable shopping bags. Baggers at supermarkets complained about having to use the bags, which didn’t fit in bagging racks and required more time and thought to pack well. I made the switch for both environmental and waste reasons: I was tired of finding a place to store heaping piles of plastic, and exasperated by baggers choosing to place just one or two items per bag.

Since 1991 many countries around the world have either banned or dis-incentivized the use of single-use plastic grocery bags, acknowledging the environmental dangers and increased litter caused by bags that easily float airborne from trash piles. Hawaii has become the first US state to ban bags at grocery checkouts. Massachusetts should follow that example by adopting pending legislation that would effect our own statewide ban.


As a nation, the US needs to do more, as we are one of the biggest contributors to ocean garbage patches. One study estimated that up to 28 billion pounds of plastic entered oceans in 2010, harming marine animals.

The biggest argument against banning plastic bags is convenience. I have been told that it’s too hard to use another option, such as reusable bags or paper. I have been told that the plastic bags are necessary for picking up dog waste and to act as liners for trash bins. But all of this is moot when you consider the viable alternative: Biodegradable plastic bags can do all of those things.


As a society it seems we have placed personal convenience ahead of our environment. Using plastic carryout bags at the supermarket over other types of bags is certainly convenient, but is dramatically changing our environment.


Christopher Flynn

Southborough resident, president of the Massachusetts Food Association

Christopher Flynnhandout

If plastic bag bans reduce our waste, do we ban all other items that people throw away?

Retailers who operate in municipalities such as Brookline and Newton that have banned plastic bags must now deal with restrictions that are made more burdensome by the fact that they are not all uniform. And it is fair to ask, why focus on just plastic bags? Being one of the most vilified and visible items of waste doesn’t make them the worst culprit in our throwaway society. Our association supports a comprehensive statewide approach to deal with all commodities in the waste stream at once, including glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper.

Consider the following:

Plastic bag bans force shoppers to choose between reusable and paper bags, with more using paper because they forget reusable ones. But paper bags create a larger carbon footprint than plastic ones, using more resources to create and recycle and more fuel and trucks to transport.

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 have worked with the state on a first-in-the-nation initiative that has reduced the use of paper and plastic bags at more than 380 stores. The state confirmed our industry reduced plastic and paper bag distribution in the Commonwealth by 33 percent from 2007 through 2010, three years earlier than the goal. That reduction rate has been maintained since.

A statewide ban on plastic bags, if it is to be implemented, should be fair and workable for all stores. Our association has been working with state Representative Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead to craft an acceptable ban that can be supported by our industry. We continue to believe the best solution would be a ban that addresses all waste, not just plastic bags.

To learn more about our efforts to reduce paper and plastic bags, go to the state Executive Office of Environmental Affairs website, www.mass.gov/eea/, and click “Supermarket recycling” in the search bar.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.