All common plastics (including resin codes 1-6) are made from petrochemicals. Plastic is versatile, lightweight, aerodynamic, inexpensive, and waterproof. These qualities explain why plastics can be found in such a wide variety of products we use every day.
Unfortunately, the flip side of these attributes cause major problems. Low cost leads to overuse. Massachusetts residents are estimated to use more than 2 billion bags per year (about a bag per person per day). Lightweight leads to pervasive litter. This synthetic material does not biodegrade, which means it lasts forever in the environment.
Some marine animals, such as turtles that eat jellyfish, mistake plastic bags for food. Once plastic gets lodged in the bodies of animals, it can cause them to suffocate or starve to death. As plastic bags fragment into smaller pieces, they become microplastics, which are ingested by a wide range of marine animals from oysters to whales. By displacing lower food sources, microplastics can enter the food chain, including our own. There is no systematic way to recover plastics once they enter lakes or oceans.
Domestically made plastic bags derive primarily from natural gas. Natural gas is especially cheap now because of hydrofracking. Another reason for the low cost of bags is that consumers and municipalities are paying to dispose of this problematic product. Note that bags are not accepted in curbside recycling. In fact, plastic bags and plastic films, when put in curbside recycling, routinely clog and shut down the sorting lines of our modern automated recycling facilities.
Plastic bags are single-use items of convenience that can be eliminated with readily available alternatives. For example, we can return to paper bags or bring our own reusable bags.
As of May, 2023, 159 Massachusetts cities and towns, representing over 4 million people or two-thirds of the state's population, regulate single-use plastic shopping bags:
Abington, Acton, Adams, Amesbury, Amherst, Andover, Aquinnah, Arlington, Ashfield, Ashland, Athol, Attleboro, Auburn, Barnstable, Becket, Bedford, Belmont, Berlin, Beverly, Billerica, Boston, Bourne, Brewster, Bridgewater, Brookline, Buckland, Burlington, Cambridge, Canton, Chatham, Chelmsford, Chelsea, Chilmark, Cohasset, Concord, Dalton, Danvers, Dartmouth, Dedham, Dennis, Dover, Duxbury, Eastham, Easthampton, Easton, Edgartown, Essex, Everett, Fairhaven, Falmouth, Framingham, Franklin, Georgetown, Gloucester, Grafton, Great Barrington, Greenfield, Groton, Hadley, Halifax, Hamilton, Hanson, Harwich, Haverhill, Hingham, Hopkinton, Hudson, Hull, Ipswich, Kingston, Lee, Lenox, Lexington, Lincoln, Littleton, Longmeadow, Lowell, Lunenburg, Lynn, Malden, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mansfield, Marblehead, Marshfield, Mashpee, Maynard, Medfield, Medford, Medway, Melrose, Millis, Milton, Nahant, Nantucket, Natick, Needham, Newburyport, Newton, North Attleborough, Northampton, Northborough, Norwell, Oak Bluffs, Orleans, Peabody, Pembroke, Pepperell, Pittsfield, Plainville, Plymouth, Provincetown, Quincy, Randolph, Reading, Revere, Rockport, Rowley, Salem, Sandwich, Saugus, Scituate, Seekonk, Sharon, Shrewsbury, Somerville, South Hadley, Southbridge, Springfield, Stockbridge, Stoneham, Sudbury, Swampscott, Tewksbury, Tisbury, Topsfield, Townsend, Truro, Tyngsborough, Upton, Wakefield, Walpole, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Wellesley, Wellfleet, West Tisbury, Westborough, Westford, Weston, Whitman, Williamstown, Wilmington, Winchester, Winthrop, Woburn, Worcester, Wrentham, Yarmouth.
Most define sustainable options such as paper bags with recycled content. Some communities such as Brookline, Northampton and Yarmouth are also banning polyethylene produce bags as has been done in France. Bans are present in all 14 counties in the Commonwealth. Boston and Worceser are the two largest communities in the New England. (Click here for details of some municipal laws.) Massachusetts has more local bans than any other state except California.
How do I get a bag ban passed in my community?
1) Reach out to your local elected officials. You may already have a sympathetic city or town councillor. Use the fact sheet for talking points.
2) Reach out to friends, neighbors, and any local environmental group to create a group of bag ban supporters. This can include churches, and civic groups or muncipal departments related to parks or recycling.
3) Definitely let us know, as we want to help you!
Together we can put Massachusetts on the path to a statewide ban of this insidious form of plastic pollution.
Designing and Implementing Plastic Bag Laws - a how-to guide with model legislation