Cambridge ban on single-use plastic bags will affect campus retailers

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.

Jonathan over 8 years ago

This is great, but it means that our [grocery] stores need to invest in a bag reuse system. I would like to see a system where you can bring bags back for credit towards future bags. I end up getting so many bags and then I don't always have them when at the grocery stores. MIT might also think about a system where "MIT students get free reusable bags from at least grocery stores and in exchange can recycle them on campus / in the dorms."

Kim OBrien over 8 years ago

I'd like to know the energy cost of a paper bag vs. plastic. You can reuse plastic as well as paper. Paper may last longer than plastic. When you need a bag you may not have one with you. Did anyone actual look at the reality of bag use or is it just a feel good ordinance.

Freedom over 8 years ago

Commenter 2's intelligence rating is 3 out of 10 (where 0 is The Tech and 10 is Julius Caesar). Hm, commenter 2, you must be kind of old. Everybody's stupid now. The intelligence of your comment is a little out of place.

And yes plastic bags have essentially zero effect on landfills. So it's just a way of pretending you care about the environment. A signaling game, in other words. (That's why it's a leftist policy-- leftism is about winning popularity contests--- hence the demos in democratic party.)

It does appear that plastic bags save power vs paper bags. But that's a minuscule effect anyway. None of that matters. It's all silly. That's why it's in The Tech.

Freedom over 8 years ago

2- Paper bags consume less energy than plastic bags. (The reason the leftist Cambridge councillors support paper bags is probably because they think Whole Foods is hip.) You are correct that the bag ban is about signaling you care about the environment, and not actually about the environment-- plastic bags are an extremely minuscule part of landfills.

Freedom over 8 years ago

Woops, that should be more energy, not less.