Stephanie Acquario, Plastic Bag Reduction Coordinator for the City of Boston, presented details about the plastic bag ordinance that went into effect Friday, December 14, at the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association December meeting.
Beginning Friday, December 14, every retailer in the city will be transitioning away from plastic bags to paper, compostable or reusable bags that customers can purchase for a minimum of 5 cents. This charge helps businesses cover the cost of these types of bags, which are more expensive, and also will hopefully encourage customers to bring their own reusable bag.
The ordinance aims to reduce plastic in the oceans as well as litter on the streets. Enforcement, conducted by Inspectional Services’ Weights and Measures department, will be rolled out in stages based on the size of the business:
- 20,000 sq. ft. and over starts December 14, 2018.
- 10,000 – 20,000 sq. ft. by April 1, 2019.
- Under 10,000 sq. ft. by July 1, 2019.
There are temporary, one-year exemptions that businesses can apply for if they have existing inventory or feel they would be caused undue hardship to transition by the deadline. Businesses granted exemption have to send in monthly documentation showing a reduction in their inventory.
One concern mentioned at the meeting was regarding who benefits from the 5-cent fees collected for the new bags. The money will stay with the businesses. Part of the rationale is that recyclable bags will cost the merchants more to stock than plastic bags. Some businesses in other cities have chosen to put the money collected from bags into a donation fund to environmental charities. Stephanie is reaching out to Boston stores to find out what they are doing with the bag fees, encouraging them to put it back into the community.
The bags consumers purchase at check-out cannot be returned to the store, in the way that a 5-cent deposit on a soda can works. You can reuse the bags you purchase; however, they are designed as single-use, so these bags will not necessarily be incredibly durable. The hope is that the fee will discourage consumers from getting a bag at all, so instead of changing waste from plastic to paper, waste is reduced altogether.
One attendee pointed out that many people who live and work downtown often stop into a store unexpectedly and may not have a bag with them. Now they must purchase a bag. Stephanie said the city hopes individuals will make a habit of carrying a small, foldable bag in their purse or backpack as residents of Somerville and Cambridge have begun doing.
Boston joins other major cities – Washington D.C., Chicago, Austin, the entire state of California – in banning plastic bags, along with our neighbors in Cambridge, Brookline and Somerville.