Ban on Thin Plastic Bags Begins Dec 14

Boston residents will have to say goodbye to flimsy plastic bags starting in just a few weeks. Last December, Mayor Marty Walsh signed an ordinance to ban single use plastic bags in the city, which goes into effect on Dec. 14.

Thin plastic bags used to hold produce, newspapers, and dry cleaning will be exempt from the ban, said Inspectional Services Department Commissioner William Christopher, Jr. Stores will have the option of offering thicker bags that contain at least 40 percent recyclable content, whether it be paper or other materials. The bags must be stamped to say that, Christopher added.

In an effort to encourage people to utilize cloth or polypropylene reusable bags instead, stores are required to charge a minimum of five cents per bag, but are allowed to charge even more than that should they choose. Stores are allowed to keep the fee. Christopher said that if a store is able to prove they have a hardship ( for example, they already have a year’s worth of traditional bags), the store can apply for a waiver. He said that ISD looks at every case individually, but if the waiver is granted, it will be for one year only and then the store would be required to comply with the regulations of the ordinance.

Plastic bags will not disappear from Boston overnight, however. The process will be done in phases, Christopher said, starting with stores that are 20,000 square feet on Dec. 14. On April 1 of next year, it will apply to stores that are 10,000 square feet, and by July 1, all stores in the city will be included. At that point, the only thing that is exempt is fairs, bazaars, and charitable and religious organizations, he said.

“We give everyone a time to acclimate and it makes it reasonable for everyone,” Christopher said.

The fines for non-compliance with the ordinance is first a warning, followed by a $50 fine for the second offense, and a $100 fine for the third offense and each consecutive one thereafter in a single calendar year, said Christopher.

Christopher added that the city is trying to promote reusable bag use, so they are handing out as many as they can to people in neighborhoods across the city. He said there is a focus on people who are elderly and low income to make sure they have bags they can use. “We are working very hard to give them out at civic meetings,” he said. He said he also thinks it’s a good idea for business establishments to come up with a way to offer these bags to their customers.

“We got no pushback from anybody on this,” he said. “We’re going to every community group in the city.” He said he believes this ordinance is a better step towards being more environmentally friendly, and the overall response has been good so far.

“We are going to be starting an ad campaign in the next week or so,” Christopher said, “and we really like the idea of face-to-face discussion [at the community meetings].” Aside from handing out bags in the community, he and a team have also been explaining the ordinance at different community meetings across the city so people are prepared for this process to start on Dec. 14.

Christopher said the push for reusable bags is very strong—“if everybody does that, we’re in great shape.”

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