By Bob Katzen
The Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee held a hearing on a bill would prohibit stores effective August 1, 2019 from providing customers with a single-use carryout bag. The bag is defined as “made of plastic, paper or other material that is provided by a store to a customer at the point of sale and that is not a recycled paper bag or a reusable grocery bag.”
The bill first phases out single-use carryout bags by imposing a 10-cent fee on single-use carryout bags, reusable grocery bags and recycled paper bags from the day the bill is signed into law until August 1, 2019. After the phaseout period, stores would be required to make recycled paper bags available for a charge of 10 cents and have the option to also sell reusable bags to customers for at least 10 cents. All of this revenue would be retained by the stores.
“Plastic bags are more than just the ‘urban tumbleweed’ that we know,” said the bill’s House sponsor Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead). “Plastic bags kill wildlife, drive up municipal costs by clogging sewers and break recycling machinery. With a patchwork of 96 plastic bag ordinances across the commonwealth, there is a clear need to act to both protect the environment and to provide a clear standard for businesses and residents of the commonwealth alike. This is a heartbreaking issue, and I am confident that Massachusetts will step up.”
The proposed plastic bag ban is essentially a tax on grocery bags and increases costs for both small businesses and consumers,” said Christopher Carlozzi, Massachusetts Director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB). “Most retail shops already offer a choice of carryout bags (paper, plastic, reusable) to suit a customer’s needs. Instead of a bag ban, Massachusetts should encourage increased promotion and education of existing reduce/reuse/recycle programs.”
“We believe the consumer is always right, therefore government taking away their right to choose is bad public policy, particularly when those laws only negatively affect local employers and their customers, not the Internet competition,” said Jon Hurst, President of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (RAM). “However, at this point the crazy quilt of local ordinances lobbied through by the activists make a statewide standard on acceptable bags more logical.”
He said that 79 percent of RAM’s members oppose the mandatory 10 cent bag fee contained in the bill, when applied to small, non-food selling stores. “Therefore any plastic bag ban/paper bag fee bill absolutely must have a small store or non -food seller opt out on that paper bag fee or tax. All stores, large or small, food or non-food, would still have to eliminate plastic bags; but Main Street businesses should have the right to choose how they serve their customers on paper bags. Legislators must start understanding that they cannot continue to say that they believe in having consumers spend their dollars in the local economy when they create consumer financial incentives to do otherwise by spending with out of state Internet firms.”