Thursday, November 15, 2012

Brookline Passes Ban on Plastic “Checkout” Bags

More Cities and Towns Slated to Consider Similar Measures

Late last night, Brookline became the first Massachusetts municipality in over 20 years to ban plastic bags since Nantucket. The vote was passed by an overwhelming margin of nearly 3-to-1.

The effort was led by Brookline activists and Town Meeting Members Clint Richmond and Andrew Fischer, and assisted by the Massachusetts Sierra Club.

The ordinance prohibits the distribution of disposable plastic checkout bags at the point of sale. It allows paper bags and also allows bags made with biodegradable/compostable bio-plastics, provided that they meet strict standards.

The Massachusetts Sierra Club and other organizations have been attempting to pass statewide legislation to ban plastic bags. So far, the only state that has banned them statewide is Hawaii. “Public support for banning bags is overwhelming,” said Phil Sego of the Sierra Club. “Nobody wants to be responsible for something that’s so harmful for the environment.”

“One of the main reasons we did this was to inspire statewide action,” said Town Meeting Member Clint Richmond, who was also the bylaw’s sponsor.

"I applaud the town meeting members decision to move forward with this initiative to protect the environment and local waterways from plastic bag pollution," said Jesse Mermell, Brookline Selectman, "Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute the our lakes and oceans for future generations."

Brookline’s ban was based on legislation filed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead), Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) and Sen. Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton).

"In Brookline, public support for the plastic bag ban has been clear," said Rep. Frank Smizik, D-Brookline, Smizik was the lead sponsor of a bill that would have banned them statewide. He has been one of the legislature’s outspoken supporters of environmental protections "Banning plastic bags is a common sense policy to protect the environment. We look forward to seeing other municipalities follow Brookline’s lead."

Plastic bags are often mistaken as food by both domesticated and wild animals. Birds may also use them for nesting material with dangerous results. Countless millions of marine animals die per year by ingesting plastic bags. These animals suffer a painful death, the plastic wraps around their intestines or they choke to death. Plastic bags choke, strangle, and entangle turtles, whales, sea lions, seals, birds, and fish among other species. Many of these animals are already threatened due to issues such as over fishing or habitat loss. The list of local animals threatened by plastic bags includes green turtles that nest on Nantucket and the right whales that feed off the Massachusetts coast line. Once in the marine environment, plastic never biodegrades, but fragments into tiny pieces that absorb toxic pollutants in the water. These tiny bits threaten to displace food supplies for threatened and endangered species.

Plastic bags are easily transported by the wind and water. They are so aerodynamic that even when properly disposed of, they often blow away and become litter. Bags easily escape from the garbage truck, landfill, boat, and average consumer’s hands – and are then carried into lakes and waterways, and eventually into the ocean.

“What’s really scary is that scientists tell us this plastic will never biodegrade,” said Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead)  “And every day we go without tackling this problem, it becomes a little bit worse. We need the State legislature to pass a statewide ban on single use plastic bags.”

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The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest non-profit, non-partisan organization environmental organization in the country. With over a forty year history in this chapter, the Massachusetts Sierra Club represents about 22,000 members throughout the state and over one million nationwide. We fight for clean air, clean water, the preservation of the Commonwealth’s most precious natural spaces, and healthy, vibrant communities.

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