Boston's City Council unanimously passed a ban on plastic bags Nov. 29, voting to outlaw the thin checkout bags and put a 5-cent fee on paper bags with handles and on thicker plastic and compostable bags.
But Mayor Martin Walsh reportedly said he's still considering whether to support the measure. Boston media reports said Walsh had concerns about similar legislation when it was debated last year.
The City Council voted 12-0 in favor of the ban, with members framing the action as a way to fight litter and as part of larger efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change on city finances and quality of life.
"This is an example of a hard problem that the city is facing that is representative of the larger problem of climate change and climate injustices that our country, that really the world is facing," said City Council President Michelle Wu. "This plastic bag ordinance is one example of a small step that is completely within the city's control to take."
Advocates for the ban said it would build pressure for statewide legislation in Massachusetts.
But the plastics industry's American Progressive Bag Alliance called the measure a tax, and urged Walsh to reject it. APBA said it wanted to work with the mayor on a better solution.
"It is a shame that city councilors pushed through a tax that will hit seniors and low-income families the hardest in the middle of the holiday shopping season," said Matt Seaholm, executive director of the Washington-based APBA. "This ordinance will incentivize the use of products that are worse for the environment than 100-percent recyclable, highly reused plastic retail bags, and will actually result in more greenhouse gas emissions."
One of the sponsors of the Boston bill, council member Matt O'Malley, told a council meeting that 59 other communities in Massachusetts had passed similar bans, and he noted that similar laws have reduced litter on city streets.
He said after a ban was passed in San Diego, Calif., for example, it cut plastics bags from 10 percent of litter to 1.5 percent, and San Jose, Calif., saw an 89 percent drop in plastic bags in storm drains after its ban.
"We have seen conclusively that these initiatives work," he said. "We recognize that attaching a fee to something is seldom popular. But the 5-cent fee is an amount that will incentive someone to bring a reusable bag without being too onerous."
The law requires stores to charge fees for, and only use, recyclable paper bags, compostable plastic bags that meet the ASTM D6400 standard or reusable bags at least 3 mils thick. Retailers would keep the fees.
O'Malley said the law's implementation would be delayed a year, and several members of the council who supported the ban urged the city to lessen the financial impact on low-income residents and senior citizens by distributing free reusable bags.
In a 2016 letter to the city as the measure was first being debated, APBA said plastic bags make up just 0.3 percent of municipal solid waste and according to one 2014 study, make up only 1.2 percent of litter in the Northeast.
"Plastic retail bags comprise such a small percentage of overall waste that meaningful waste reduction is never achieved through bans or taxes," APBA said.