My Testimony in Favor of a Plastic Bag Ban

Today I testified in favor of my bill H.2121, An Act to Reduce Plastic Bag Pollution in front of the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources, and Agriculture. 

This bill takes on the issue of plastic bag pollution here in Massachusetts and across our world’s oceans. California has taken the lead in the U.S. by banning single-use plastic bags across the state. As a state that has historically prioritized environmental issues, it’s time for Massachusetts to join California in the fight to keep our oceans plastic free

Although at the state level California is ahead of us, our cities and towns have been real leaders on the issue across the Commonwealth. 55 of our municipalities, as of September, have a ban or limit on single-use plastic bags, according to the Sierra Club of Massachusetts.

My bill addresses the need for retailers to have predictability across municipalities in Massachusetts for their logistics and supply chains. One standard of environmentally-friendly bags can do a world of good.

Our municipalities know that single use bags cause a number of problems in addition to damaging our oceans. We've all grown used to seeing plastic bags stuck in trees and clogging storm drains, so much so that this phenomenon has been coined “urban tumbleweed.” These “tumbleweeds” mostly end their journeys in our beaches and waterways where they threaten marine life and pollute beaches. Hundreds of thousands of birds and marine animals are killed each year by plastic bags and other debris due to ingestion and entanglement.

Plastic pollution is reaching a crisis point in our oceans, as plastic has an estimated 1000 years for complete breakdown. The thin film bags cannot even be recycled in most places; because they are so light they are sucked up into the reclamation machines and clog the gears, so almost all of them end up in our waste stream. According to National Geographic, the Pacific Ocean now plays host to a garbage patch of plastic fibers that is estimated to be larger than Mexico.

Moreover, a World Economic Forum report estimates that by 2050 there will be more plastic in our oceans than fish. This statistic is preventable if we take action on reducing the use of plastic. If we continue to produce plastic at current rates, this statistic will become a reality threatening the food security of approximately 3 billion people who rely on seafood as their primary source for sustenance. 

This plastic pollution ultimately impacts the entire ecosystem – including us. Plastic breaks down into smaller and smaller particles over time, and eventually ends up in our food and water.

For all of this, plastic bags are only used for consumers on average of a mere 12 minutes. Already, countries across the world have banned or limited bags, including Ireland, China, Rwanda, Israel, Canada, and Singapore. The United Nations recognize the severity of this issue, declaring a “war on ocean plastic” this past February. Locally, our wildlife and our own water sources need protection.

As such, I believe that now is the time to act on this important piece of legislation. Our state is moving in this direction, and it is time for us to step in, clarify the rules, and end the use of single-use plastic bags in favor of widely-available reusable or paper bags.

I urge the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture to report this bill out favorably, so the Commonwealth can join the dozens of cities and towns in our state that have already taken action on this issue. 

Preyel Patel