Banning plastics is a mixed bag

The Boston City Council is considering a proposal to ban single-use plastic bags, those ubiquitous film-thin carriers used in grocery and convenience stores. If the council passes it, it could trigger a long-sought statewide ban that environmentalists crave and retailers fear.

State Rep. Lori Ehrlich earlier this year was the latest to make an unsuccessful effort to pass a statewide ban and she told the Boston Herald if the state’s biggest city with the highest use of plastics passes an ordinance, it’s only a matter of time before there is a consensus to make everyone do the same. Environmentalists who have feverishly pushed for such an effort concur.

“It’s huge, that’s the game changer — if Boston does it then the game is over,” said Brad Verter of Mass Green Network, which has championed the cause.

So far, about 35 cities and towns in Massachusetts have enacted some type of restrictions on plastic bags, including most of Cape Cod and the Islands. Cambridge has not only banned the bag but slapped a 10-cent per bag fee on paper as well in an effort to prod shoppers to bring their own, similar to the proposal by Ehrlich. A number of other cities around the country, especially tourist destinations, have passed similar bans and taxes.

Retailers agree that if Boston gets on-board the ban train, then the rest of the 351 communities should as well so they don’t have to deal with 351 different local ordinances. But saying they agree that as Boston goes so should everyone else is not the same as saying they support a ban.

There is some convincing economic and environmental arguments for both sides of the ban. Under most proposals, single-use plastic bags are defined as less than 3 mils thick with handles. Most bans, though, exclude plastic bags used for drycleaning, newspapers, meats, and wet items at grocery stores.

One of the problems with plastic bags is not that they cannot be recycled but most communities don’t accept them for recycling because of the cost to process them. But some retailers say that’s an unfair burden on them and that they’re being singled out when you consider that coffee shops such as Dunkin’ Donuts use tens of millions of Styrofoam cups every month and those containers end up in incinerators because they aren’t recyclable.

There’s also a debate over whether paper is, indeed, the more ecologically sound alternative. A 2008 study found that plastic bags produce fewer airborne emissions and require lower energy use than paper in production. Plastic bags also create 9.1 cubic pounds of solid waste per 10,000 uses versus nearly 46 cubic pounds of solid waste if both end up in landfills and not recycled. It also costs less to produce plastic bags and while they are made from oil byproducts and created by coal-burning energy sources, paper bags require cutting down trees. Pick your poison.

A recent study by the University of New Hampshire found that outright bans are the most successful way to reduce the reliance on plastics but also found that in those places such as Hawaii that restricted bags of a certain thickness, there was an increase in the use of heavier plastic bags. The study also looked at alternatives and found a tax was also highly effective in changing consumer behavior. The study authors also said retailers that participated in “take back” programs and communities that made it easier to dispose of plastic bags had a reduction in waste.

In the end, most retailers and environmentalists agree the best alternative is to prod consumers to bring their own reusable bags to shop, eliminating the need for government intervention and cutting back on all paper and plastic bag use.

But there is one area no one seems to address that could go far in significantly reducing the number of plastic bags – teach teenaged baggers to put more than one item in the damn bag.

JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito urges municipal officials to get out and oppose a ballot question legalizing marijuana, saying that if the measure passes state aid to communities may take a hit. (State House News)

A special commission begins its deliberations on unwarranted price variations among health care providers, with one of the co-chairs joking that the exercise feels like a game of Survivor. (CommonWealth)

A Herald editorial knocks Democratic lawmakers for sounding alarms over possible privatization moves at the MBTA after they granted the agency authority to do just that.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Leonard Campanello, the Gloucester police chief who has been nationally recognized for his work to divert heroin addicts to treatment rather than jail, was placed on leave yesterday pending an investigation. The city released no further details. (Boston Globe)  Campanello says he doesn’t know what the investigation is about and adds that he is “honestly unconcerned.” (Gloucester Times)

Falmouth officials are flummoxed about a $150,000 earmark in the state economic development bill for a parking feasibility study that no one in the town asked for. (Cape Cod Times)

Gloucester Mayor Sefatia Romeo Theken resurrects an idea from the city’s 2011 Harborwalk project — a roundabout at Tally’s Corner. (Gloucester Times)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A second batch of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee by Russian operatives has been released by Wikileaks but no one knows what they say because few have been able to access them. (New York Times)

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launches an investigation of Trump Foundation. (Governing)

The Herald’s Kimberly Atkins says US Rep. Seth Moulton’s high-profile moves to lay out a plan to combat ISIS in Iraq are stoking speculation that he might be interested in a post in a Clinton administration.

ELECTIONS

Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump in Massachusetts by 26 points, according to a WBUR poll conducted by the MassINC Polling Group. The big news, however, may be that Libertarian Gary Johnson (whose running mate is former governor William Weld) has the support of only 9 percent of voters.

President Obama condemns Trump in a full-throated pitch for Clinton. (New York Times) In a hacked email, Colin Powell calls Trump “a national disgrace.”

A supporter (former Boston state rep Marty Walz) and foe (Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson) of the ballot question to expand charter schools engaged in a spirited debate at UMass Boston. (Boston Globe)

Agriculture industry groups say a ballot question banning inhumane treatment of farm animals could lead to higher egg prices. (Boston Herald)

A Herald editorial says House Speaker Robert DeLeo is right to oppose a ballot question that could open the door to an additional slot machine hall in the state.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg says he’s troubled by state education board chairman Paul Sagan’s $100,000 donation to the ballot campaign to expand charter schools. (Boston Herald)

Dan Kennedy looks back on a piece he wrote in 2002 for CommonWealth about quixotic presidential candidate Jill Stein’s then-quixotic run for governor and says now, as then, she’s “yelling from the mountaintop.” (WGBH)

Maine is suddenly a battleground state in the presidential race. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Middle class wages jumped 5 percent last year, the biggest bump ever recorded, in a sign that real recovery in the economy is finally taking place. (Boston Globe)

A Superior Court judge orders Worcester to pay for a $10 million footbridge from the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel to the DCU Center. Worcester agreed to build the footbridge in June 2003, but the rising cost of the project prompted the city to put the structure on hold. (Telegram & Gazette)

Bayer reaches a deal to acquire Monsanto for $66 billion. (Time)

EDUCATION

Poor, minority, and first-generation college students in New England are burdened the most by college debt, according to a new report. (Boston Globe)

Kevin Mensah of Worcester, a top college football prospect, is not being allowed to play his senior year because he transferred from one high school to another and his former school won’t sign a waiver exempting him from a rule requiring him to sit out sports for a year. His new coach says he won’t coach any games until Mensah is allowed to play. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A popular health care program on Cape Cod that more than 200 home-bound patients relied on for house calls is ending because the organization running it said there are not sufficient doctors to operate the program and reimbursements lag behind costs. (Cape Cod Times)

TRANSPORTATION

MetroWest lawmakers slammed a proposal to hike some tolls on the Mass Pike with the new electronic tolling gantries, saying commuters in those suburbs between Westborough and Weston are unfairly being singled out. (MetroWest Daily News)

Uber launches self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh. (Time) Testing of self-driving cars could be coming to Boston. (Boston Herald)

Officials in Fall River and surrounding communities are protesting a proposal by federal transportation officials to place them in a region centered on Providence that would have them competing with that city for funding. (Herald News)

The tiny world of Boston Harbor pilots is in turmoil, with charges flying among its members and a Suffolk County district attorney investigation looking at allegations that the former president of the small group that steers huge foreign ships into Boston diverted more than $100,000 of fees from ships to his own use. (Boston Globe)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

With drought conditions continuing, Worcester begins buying water from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. The eventual price tag is expected to be $1.7 million. (Telegram & Gazette)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Prosecutors dismissed charges against five defendants arrested in Braintree and are mulling hundreds of other cases after an investigation discovered missing and tainted evidence such as cash, guns, and drugs from a police storage room. (Patriot Ledger)

A field test by California police of drivers pulled over who voluntarily submitted to a pot version of a Breathalyzer showed that the device not only can detect if someone recently smoked marijuana but also successfully detected when someone ingested a marijuana-laced edible, according to the inventor of the machine. (U.S. News & World Report) Earlier this year, CommonWealth featured a story about the dilemma police face in measuring marijuana intoxication and an interview with Dr. Mike Lynn, the emergency room doctor and reserve deputy sheriff who invented the device.