On July 1st, 2019 the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture (ENRA) officially released a redraft of the MA state plastic bag bill (H.771). The new redraft is bill number H.3945.
Unfortunately, the redraft includes a number of deeply problematic changes, and the once strong bag bill originally filed by Rep. Lori Ehrlich and Sen. Jamie Eldridge has now been so severely weakened that the Surfrider Foundation MA Chapter cannot support it in its current form. We are actively working to help course-correct so that we are not forced to work towards killing this bill.
The changes made strike at the key mechanisms and definitions needed for strong, environmentally sound bag policy. The redraft bill H.3945:
- Removes the previously mandated charges for new carryout bags, thus stripping out the critical mechanism that incentivizes bag reuse. Using a durable, low-cost reusable bag to replace hundreds of disposable ones will save money for both consumers and retailers, while being the best choice for the environment.
- Explicitly allows film plastic bags thicker than 4 mils to be considered ‘reusable’ and distributed for free. Time and again, studies have shown that giving out thick plastic bags for free causes many consumers to treat them as disposable, thus risking that even more plastic will be discarded than before and taking us further away from the global goal to reduce production of low-grade, disposable plastic.
- Removes the requirements that reusable bags be "machine washable", “sewn”, and have “stitched handles”. These requirements are generally included in bag laws precisely so that plastic film checkout bags are not considered reusable. In particular, film plastic is not machine washable, a key functional characteristic that helps make bags simple and convenient to reuse.
- Creates a loophole whereby ‘compostable’ bags might be considered reusable and distributed for free. Promoting ‘compostable’ bags – which are designed to be disposable – when functional, cost-effective, and sustainable reusable bags are available goes against the central goals of the waste reduction movement. There is also widespread scientific concern about whether many compostable plastic-like materials will “degrade safely”, especially in the marine environment.
- Would fully preempt local bag laws upon enactment, despite its fundamental problems. It would nullify the more than 120 local laws that have already been passed and prevent future local action to reduce single-use and plastic bag pollution, including efforts to fix the problems that would be created by passage of this bill. Preemption of local laws should only be supported if the state law sets extremely good policy.
For these reasons, the Surfrider Foundation Massachusetts Chapter does not support the redrafted bag bill as it stands; passing nothing this session would be far better than passing H.3945 as is. Our decades of experience working on plastic pollution initiatives across the country have made us keenly aware that a bad bill is worse than no bill at all.
We fully intend to work with the sponsors of the original bag bill and other stakeholders to see if this bill can be repaired as it moves through the legislative process. If the necessary policy elements cannot be restored, then we will be working to make sure that H.3945 does not become law.
We need your help to continue advocating for strong plastic pollution reduction initiatives in Massachusetts! For more information about this campaign or to learn more about how you can help, please contact our chapter Campaigns Coordinator. You can also help by making a tax-deductible contribution and becoming a member of the Surfrider Foundation.