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Bag ban stalls, bottle bill may be headed to Massachusetts voters

By: Gayle S. Putrich

July 18, 2014

Efforts to curb plastic use and waste in Massachusetts are foundering.

A proposed state-wide bag ban that drew much attention when it was proposed last spring has since stalled out, and a decades-long effort to include nearly all plastic bottles in the state’s deposit program will be decided by voters this fall after it flopped in the legislature.

Bills to eliminate single-use plastic shopping bags have popped up all over the country in recent years, with states from California to Rhode Island vying to be the first to enact a ban within their borders. When House and Senate versions of a ban were introduced in April 2013 in the Massachusetts legislature, it was with the ringing endorsement of the Joint ­Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture Committee and plaudits from the

Sierra Club.

The measures would ban single-use plastic bags at pharmacies, grocery store and retail stores larger than 4,000 square feet. The ban would ­exempt smaller retail stores and the even thinner produce and bakery bags used in grocery stores. The House version, sponsored by Rep. Lori Ehrlich (D-Marblehead) includes an exception for some biodegradable bags.

But since their introduction, the bills have gone nowhere. And the Massachusetts state legislature’s two-year session comes to a close July 31.

Sen. James Eldridge (D-Acton), sponsor of the Senate bill, told the Boston Globe it is a “classic example where the public is very much embracing this idea, but in the legislature it’s just not as much of a priority.”

Legislative inaction has been somewhat kinder to the state’s bottle bill, an effort to include plastic bottles in the Massachusetts deposit program will most likely be decided by the voters.

A committee of legislators announced in June that they were “at an impasse” and unable to come up with an acceptable compromise between stakeholders — the advocates who would only accept a bill that would expand the state’s five-cent deposit program to include noncarbonated beverages and the opponents, who say municipal recycling programs have rendered the bottle bill obsolete and refused to accept any bill that did not scrap the 33-year-old law altogether.

In an effort spearheaded by MassPIRG and the Sierra Club, more than 19,000 signatures have since been delivered to State Secretary William Galvin’s office and, provided they are certified, the question of extending the current nickel deposit on soda and beer to other single-serving containers for water, juice and sports drinks will be put to a state-wide vote Nov. 4. The ballot proposal also requires the state energy secretary to adjust the container deposit number every five years to reflect changes in the consumer price index.