, Salem, MA


April 30, 2013

Our view: Let's have a debate on plastic bags

It took some doing, but a bill banning supermarket plastic bags has made it out of the Legislature’s Environmental, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee.

Already, skeptics are lining up against the proposal, the House version of which is sponsored by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich of Marblehead.

“I believe we have to be cautious on how government steps in on any transaction,” said state Rep. Ted Speliotis of Danvers, who as chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Bills in the Third Reading has more say than most in what bills get a full airing before lawmakers and the public.

“I think you have to be careful in mandating your choice on environmental issues,” Speliotis told reporter Alan Burke last week.

Speliotis has a point. But so does Ehrlich, and we think the Legislature needs to take up the issue in earnest and not kill the bill by ignoring it, as it did in the last session. As consumers, and as stewards of the local environment, we deserve better.

The bills — there is also a Senate version — would ban the bags at retail stores 4,000 square feet or larger. The produce and bakery bags used inside grocery stores would still be allowed.

It’s difficult to argue that the ubiquitous plastic bags don’t create environmental problems. They are not biodegradable and are not accepted for recycling. They never go away, and Ehrlich says they harm beaches, ocean and animal life. Large swaths of discarded plastic are floating at sea.

“Nothing that we use for a few minutes should pollute the ocean for hundreds of years,” Ehrlich said last week. “Anyone who’s attended a beach cleanup knows how much plastic is in the ocean.”

On land, they seem to make up much of the region’s litter problem and clog storm drains.

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