Boston is hopping on the bandwagon, joining 59 U.S. cities and communities in their effort to ban plastic bags. The move comes after the City Council unanimously passed a bill last Wednesday that hopes to encourage shoppers to purchase 5 cent paper bags instead of using plastic bags, in line with the global move away from plastic.
Despite consensus by the City Council and many community members, the bill is due to go in effect starting next year, which should give retailers and shoppers enough time to get accustomed to the move away from plastic bags. This bill to ban plastic bags, however, is not the first to have been raised in the City of Boston. Other attempts to ban plastic were put on the table, but were shot down by the administration on grounds that it had other environmentally-friendly plans for the city.
The 2017 bill is rooted in the community’s frustration with how plastic bags are affecting nature and marine ecosystems due to misuse or improper disposal, which leads to scores of bags lining up along highways, clogging gutters and polluting oceans. In years past, environmentalists and marine biologists alike have decried plastic bags as a direct threat to marine life, usually conjuring images of disfigured sea turtles to express their anger at the omnipresence of plastic bags floating about the world’s oceans. The truth of the matter is that more than half of the world’s sea turtles have ingested plastic, dauntingly validating their claim.
Councilor Matt O’Malley, the bill’s main supporter, told the Boston Globe that these plastic bags “do not end up in the dedicated recycling bins [at your] local supermarket. They end up in our streets, in our gutters, tangled up in our wildlife and our marine ecosystem.” President of the City Council said the bill was a move towards what she called“climate justice,” which has been an epithet of the global move away from the usage of plastic bags.
O’Malley claimed that 375 million plastic bags a year are used in the Boston area alone. Consequently, the city is looking to resort to alternatives such paper bags, “t-shirt bags” or canvas bags, all of which have gained popularity in other countries that have taken action against plastic bags.
This is not, however, to assume that everyone is pleased with the bill. Retailers, city stakeholders and average shoppers are voicing their opposition to the bill. The increment, albeit negligible, may accrue extra costs to individuals shopping at grocery stores needing to carry heavy loads of groceries, for example. The canvas bags that O’Malley claims will serve as a substitute could cost about $8.75 a bag, rendering the possibility of purchasing the bags in huge numbers difficult.
The executive director of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which is a collective of plastic bag manufacturers, spoke out against the bill, claiming that the burden of needing to pay for shopping bags will fall on the elderly and low-income families. However, City Councilor Ayanna Pressley thinks that, while the city is concerned about some individuals’ ability to pay for plastic bag alternatives, those same individuals are equally concerned about plastic finding its way into their neighborhoods.
Scores of American cities have been rolling out legislation to ban or move towards banning the usage of plastic in one or more forms from stores and food outlets. One of the more recent cities, Oak Park in Chicago, passed a bill to come into effect in 2018 that will tax shoppers who wish to use shopping bags. Other cities like Los Angeles have efforts in place to encourage people to reduce plastic consumption and effectively banned plastic in 2016 despite major backlash from the community. A year later, the Coastal Cleanup Day effort published a report that claims the amount of plastic bags in the Pacific Ocean fell from 3.43 percent to 3.12 percent between 2016 and 2017, down from 7.42 percent in 2010.
International efforts have also come to light, with countries like Kenya going so far as to criminalize the usage, manufacturing and selling of plastic bags while others like China were able to reduce plastic usage by 66% since their ban came into effect in 2008.