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Activists Mobilize To Ban Single-Use Plastic In Mass.

Plastic trash in Hong Kong. (Courtesy Nick Mallos/Ocean Conservancy)
Plastic trash in Hong Kong. (Courtesy Nick Mallos/Ocean Conservancy)

State environmental advocates held a forum with lawmakers on Wednesday to advance legislation banning single-use plastic in Massachusetts. The advocates say they are encouraged by a Maine law that went into effect on July 1, preventing retailers from giving out single-use plastic bags and many foam food containers. Similar proposals were defeated last year on Beacon Hill.

State Rep. Marjorie Decker, of Cambridge, is co-sponsor of two bills prohibiting single-use plastic products statewide, including polystyrene foam food containers and cups, bottles used for hotel toiletries and nip bottles of alcohol.

“We are at the precipice of a public health crisis when it comes to our love affair with single-use products to be in our ecosystem,” Decker said.

Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG, said, “We cannot recycle our way out of this problem,” observing that most of these plastics — used to make utensils, food containers and cups — end up washing into oceans, or buried in landfills where materials can take decades to decompose and leach chemicals into the ground, or burned in incinerators that release chemicals into the air.

Domenitz noted six of the seven trash incinerators in Massachusetts are located in environmental justice communities.

Black plastic containers widely used by restaurants and groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic would also be banned under the proposals. Automated recycling machines cannot sort out the color.

Kirstie Pecci, director of the Zero Waste Project at the Conservation Law Foundation, acknowledged that plastic ban advocates face an uphill climb on Beacon Hill.

“The petroleum industry sees this as their plan B — when they are not allowed to use oil and gas as fuel, they’ll use it to make plastic," Pecci said. "We’re up against some of the biggest corporations in the world."

There are 144 Massachusetts towns and cities that already have various bans and limits on single-use plastic products.

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Bruce Gellerman Twitter Senior Reporter
Bruce Gellerman is an award-winning journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.

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