Plastic or paper? Maybe neither
Grocers to promote alternatives, recycle
Environmental officials and the owners of hundreds of supermarkets throughout the state are expected to sign an agreement today to reduce by a third the plastic and paper bags the grocers distribute in Massachusetts.
The pact would mark the first statewide effort to control the billions of bags that end up as litter everywhere from tree branches to beach fronts.
The five-year plan, devised as state lawmakers and municipalities have proposed bans or charges for the disposable bags, aims to cut the number of bags provided at supermarkets and grocery stores from the estimated 1.5 billion a year today to 1 billion a year in 2013. The reductions will come from a combination of incentives for customers to recycle old bags and from closer state scrutiny of bag purchases by supermarkets.
But environmental groups and lawmakers who favor more sweeping action argued that the voluntary reduction is not enforceable and leaves a massive number of plastic bags still flowing out of supermarkets.
"While it's a good start, it's not enough," said James McCaffrey, director of the Massachusetts Sierra Club. "We should be able to get to zero."!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!The agreement, which is to be signed this morning at Shaw's Supermarket in Dorchester, calls for stores to reduce their use of disposable bags by offering customers incentives to bring in used bags, setting up stations near checkout counters where customers can recycle old bags, and requiring supermarkets to provide data to state officials about the number of bags they buy and distribute every year.
State officials said the agreement would allow supermarkets to provide creative incentives, such as coupons to customers who bring in old bags or paying them up to a five cents for each bag they reuse. The state also plans to help train checkout clerks in the art of packaging and the sale of inexpensive nylon or canvas reusable bags.
She added the main advantage of the agreement - which will include supermarkets such as Shaw's, Stop & Shop, Market Basket, Big Y, Foodmaster, Roche Brothers, and Hannaford Brothers - is that bag reduction efforts will begin right away.Countries including Ireland, South Africa, and China have cracked down on the free distribution of plastic bags, leading to a sharp reduction in the number of bags in circulation, according to the Institute. San Francisco in 2007 became the first major US city to ban plastic grocery bags, and officials in Seattle, Phoenix, and Portland, Ore., have considered similar policies.
In Massachusetts, efforts to ban plastic bags have cropped up in Boston, Sturbridge, and in Plymouth, where Walmart and other businesses strongly lobbied against the policies.
On Beacon Hill, state Senator Brian A. Joyce, a Milton Democrat, filed legislation last year that would charge a two-cent fee that would gradually increase to 15 cents for each plastic bag used. Representative Matt Patrick, a Falmouth Democrat, sponsored a bill this year that would prohibit plastic bags, except those that are biodegradable or used for fresh produce, baked goods, and a few other things.
Patrick said he proposed the bill after seeing the plastic bags as he walked along the beach and learned how the bags can choke birds and other wildlife, which often mistake them for food.
"It's not acceptable to have billions of plastic bags in our rivers, streams, oceans, and all over our streets," he said.
David Abel can be reached at email@example.com.