, Gloucester, MA

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April 26, 2013

Statewide plastic bag bill advancing

MARBLEHEAD — Lori Ehrlich has one word for the Massachusetts Legislature — plastic.

More specifically, the Marblehead state representative — moving forward from where voters in Manchester have already gone — wants a statewide end to your supermarket’s distribution of plastic bags, making an argument that they’ve become an environmental menace, harming beaches, oceans and animal life.

Ehrlich is sponsoring the bill that would make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to outlaw the bags. It’s hit some resistance from legislators who suggest that it might be a case of government overreach and retailers who warn that the policy is likely to cause consumers both inconvenience and money.

Ehrlich’s proposal has nonetheless already picked up steam in the Legislature, winning initial approval from the Environmental, Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee. That was enough to impress Rep. Brad Hill, the Ipswich Republican whose district includes the town of Manchester.

“When the environmental committee put it out as quickly as it did,” Hill said, “it has legs. ... I haven’t seen the bill in its totality. But the underlying intent of the bill is a good one. It’s a very good solution to the pollution of our ocean.”

He praised a feature of the bill that would allow plastic bags if they can be made biodegradable.

It’s the fact that the bags do not break down over time that has caused environmentalists to lament their impact, especially at the seacoast, Ehrlich said.

“Nothing that we use for a few minutes should pollute the ocean for hundreds of years,” said Ehrlich, who launched her political career after working on environmental causes on the North Shore. “Anyone who’s attended a beach cleanup knows how much plastic is in our ocean.”

Those arguments parallel the ones that played out earlier this spring in Manchester, where voters on April 2 emphatically approved a new town bylaw that will ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags by supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies and other retailers as of July 1.

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