By Joe Carpenter
This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to represent CABA at Boston City Hall. The topic of discussion was docket #1529, an ordinance which aims to reduce the amount of single use plastic bags in Boston. Although this was my first time doing something like this it was readily apparent that the topic was one of substantial interest – with the chamber at city hall being quite full. It was great to see so many people out to express their opinion – some even had signs and stickers, and I made a new friend!
At the beginning of the hearing, the ordinance co-sponsors, City Councillors Matt O’Malley and Michelle Wu, spoke in depth about the work done to date to ensure the success of this piece of legislation. It was encouraging to hear just how much effort was being put into thinking this through, and how knowledgeable they seem to be on the topic.
There were a number of different types of panels, of which I was one. During the course of the different testimonies, fairly common themes emerged that underlie most conversations surrounding environmental policy and sustainability issues.
First, you have the position of how bad non-recyclable, single use plastic bags are for the environment – and subsequently living creatures, including humans. During this discourse various statistics were used to highlight just how much single use plastic bags negatively impact the world.
Next, you have the position that the ordinance itself doesn’t go far enough. The idea is that banning single use plastic bags may be impactful, but not enough to warrant support because it should be part of a larger measure aimed at bringing Boston to zero waste.
Then there is the moral appeal. While it is hard to argue against importance of leaving a healthy environment for our children, the moral case for either side is a little more nuanced. On one side of the coin, the ordinance can be viewed as a way to help low income neighborhoods, who bear the brunt of this type of pollution. On the other side, folks raised that this ordinance will increase the cost of retail merchandise and in-turn disproportionately impact those of lower economic means.
In addition, some argued that the ordinance would also negatively affect small businesses due to extra associated costs and changes to consumer behavior. The thought then shifts to the belief that this type of ordinance has been a failure in other places and the return on investment doesn’t justify the action. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the concern for potential loss of jobs due to it.
Of course, others argued the very opposite positions and believe if done correctly, municipalities stand to see real fiscal benefits, businesses save money by having to purchase less bags overall, and any negative impact to those of lower economic means can be successfully mitigated.
For our part, we acknowledged that this as a nuanced topic, but ultimately support this ordinance. We at CABA believe the transition to banning plastic bags will be an overall benefit to businesses, cities, and consumers a like. Our position is that the cost of externalities should be included in prices to help spur sustainable innovation, adaptation, and to mitigate future costs associated with the choices made now. Short-term and long-term ramifications are both important to consider. This is why our member businesses are such an encouragement to us – they are taking on the challenge of finding ways to be financially successful while still contributing to the fight against climate change.
So, come early next year we hope that the Boston City Council will pass this ordinance. More importantly though, we encourage you to continue approaching these complicated topics with a balanced measure of passion, critical thinking, and empathy for others viewpoints.