Cambridge has become the largest city on the East Coast to ban single-use plastic bags with the passing of the “Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance” on March 30. City councillors voted 8-1 to ban single-use plastic bags and impose a 10-cent fee on paper bags.
Taking effect in March 2016, the ordinance requires food and retail services to replace plastic checkout bags with reusable bags or offer recyclable paper bags for 10 cents. Failure to do so could result in a non-compliance fee of up to $300 per day.
At the request of Councillor Marc McGovern, the legislation also requires the city to purchase 10,000 reusable bags for low-income residents and the elderly.
The ban will have implications for many popular on-campus dining and retail services, such as LaVerde’s, The Coop, and the Stata Center’s Forbes Family Cafe run by Chartwells, all of which exclusively provide single-use plastic checkout bags.
Don Link, Director of Dining Services for Chartwells Higher Education, said that he is working with his corporate management to develop a “new environmentally friendly approach” in response to the ban.
The ordinance states that the reduction of disposable bags in Cambridge is “a public purpose that protects the marine environment, advances solid waste reduction and protects waterways.” The ordinance is intended to get people to use reusable shopping bags.
Some Cambridge store owners have contested the ban, arguing that it will cause undue hardship and will not have the desired environmental impact. Brian Houghton, the vice president of the Massachusetts Food Association (MFA), a supermarket trade group that includes Shaws/Star Market and Trader Joe’s, argued that the ban would harm business. He also claimed the ban would disrupt the MFA’s current recycling and litter-reduction efforts, which have helped contribute to a 33 percent reduction in disposable bag distribution statewide since 2009.
Supporters of the ban, however, argue that its environmental benefits outweigh any inconveniences it may cause.
“All in all, I think it’s a win-win for everybody,” said city councilor Dennis Carlone. “We somehow survived without plastic before, and we will do it again.”
To offset inconveniences caused by the ban, revenue generated by the paper bag fee will go directly to the establishment. Furthermore, businesses have the option to apply for an exemption from the ban in cases of “undue hardship.”
Cambridge joins the nearby municipalities of Newton, Brookline, and Manchester-by-the-Sea, which have passed similar legislation banning plastic bags.