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 Committee Report

Committee Report #1


In City Council February 10, 2014

Councillor David P. Maher, Chair

Councillor Leland Cheung

Mayor Henrietta Davis

Councillor Marjorie C. Decker

Councillor Craig Kelley

Councillor Kenneth E. Reeves

Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons

Councillor Timothy J. Toomey, Jr.

Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom 



  • Public hearing


  • To conduct a public hearing on an amendment to the Municipal Code in Chapter 8.67 relating to Plastic Bag Reduction (ATTACHMENT A).


  • Date and Time: December 19, 2013 at 9:58 AM
  • Location: Sullivan Chamber


  • Present

Councillor David P. Maher, Chair, Mayor Henrietta Davis, Councillor Marjorie C. Decker, Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons, Councillor Minka vanBeuzekom,  Richard Rossi, City Manager, Lisa Peterson, Deputy City Manager,  Nancy Schlacter, Human Rights Commission, Karen Preval, Assistant to the City Manager, Owen O'Riordan, Public Works Commissioner, Rebecca Fuentes, Assistant Commissioner for Administration, Public Works Department,  Randi Mail, Recycling Coordinator, Public Works, Brian Murphy, Assistant City Manager for Community Development Department (CDD),  John Bolduc, Environmental Project Planner, CDD and Donna P. Lopez, City Clerk. 


Kevin Bacon (Star Market), 49 White Street, Antonetta Oteri (Shaw's) 750 W. Center Street, North Bridgewater, Mary Burke (CVS), 45 White Street, Tuck Welch, 33 Concord Avenue, Tommethain Alexande, 5 Cambridge Park Drive, Helena Leighton, 225 Binney Street, Nina Liang, 14 Vandine Street, Phil Sego, Mass. Sierra Club, Leigh Dubofsky (Bertucci's), 799 Main Street, Elena Saporta, 102 Ellery Street, Eric Baxtrom, 2304  Mass. Avenue and Denise Jillson, Harvard Square Business Association. 


  • Councillor Maher opened the meeting and stated the purpose. He stated that there would be a brief summary of the proposal before the committee.
  • Deputy City Manager Peterson gave an update on the ordinance. She stated that the city staff worked with the Community Health Commission. The goal is to reduce plastic bags. The ordinance seeks to reduce the number of bags both plastic and paper and to encourage reusable bags and sanitizing the reusable bags to prevent air borne bacteria. Ms. Petersons explained the definition of check out bags and what it does not include contained in the ordinance. She read the definitions of recyclable bags and reusable bags and their content. Retail establishments is defined whether for or not-for profit and including, but not limited to restaurants, pharmacies, convenience and grocery stores, liquor stores, seasonal and temporary businesses, farmers' markets, jewelry stores household goods stores, street fairs or festivals or bazaars.
  • The requirements are if a retail establishment provides bags to consumers. The Public Works Commissioner has the right to promulgate regulations. The effective date is 180 days from enactment. There is an exemption for retailers from this regulations based on hardship. An extension is given for 6 months and the exemption criterion is included in the ordinance. There is a non-criminal disposition provision in the ordinance with a maximum fine of $300. Enforcement is done by Commissioner of Public Works, the License Commission, Inspectional Services and the Commissioner of the Health Commission. 

Councillor Decker stated that she is proud that one of her final acts is to shepherd this ordinance.  This is being done with extensive scrutiny.  This is to eliminate plastic bags and its impact on the wildlife and the quality of life.  Cambridge has been methodical and thoughtful about implementing this.  Santa Monica, California does not pass any ordinance until they look at the environmental impact of the ordinance.  It was more costly not to enact this ordinance.   Many companies have opted to eliminate the use of plastic bags.  She hopes there will be a partnership with the city and retailers with giving away reusable bags.  She is encouraged by her children to recycle.  These are big changes in behavior.  Children will be more intuitive to protect the air, water and environment.  She thanked the city staff for their work on this ordinance. 

Mayor Davis stated that she supports the ordinance and that the city wanted to do this in a fair and practical manner and to reduce the impact on the environment.  She thanked the staff and community on this matter. 

Councillor vanBeuzekom stated that she was disappointed that she would not be on the City Council to make this happen.  She agreed that this was done in a fair and methodical manner.  She hopes the ordinance will be embraced by the retail community. 

Vice Mayor Simmons stated that she commended the efforts to bring this ordinance before the City Council.  She stated that she has questions about the ordinance.  She spoke about retail establishments and who is included in the ordinance.  She questioned how outreach would be done to farmers markets and street fairs.   She also questioned how church bazaars would be affected.  She questioned the exemption clause.  She stated her concerns about unintended consequences and cited the way that the smoking ordinance was done.

Deputy City Manager Peterson stated the importance to reach out to farmers markets and special events.  This could be done in the permitting process.  This will be integrated into retail and small bus practices in the Economic Division of the Community Development Department.  Church bazaars will be included in the permitting process.  Vive Mayor Simmons suggested reaching out to the pastors at churches.  Dinners from churches are packed in Styrofoam.  Ms. Peterson stated that special outreach can be done to churches and special groups.  Regarding the exemption process the Public Works Commissioner may exempt retail establishments up to 6 months if it is an undue hardship and if there is no alternative.  Monthly reports need to be filed with the Commissioner of Public Works on their inventory.  Vice Mayor Simmons stated that it is important to have a panel similar to what was done in the smoking ordinance so that the retailer has a place to address their concerns.  Ms. Petersons stated that this is an interdepartmental working group under the authority of the Public Works Commissioner.  Vice Mayor Simmons is not concerned that this be in the ordinance, but wants this in place before implementation.

Councillor vanBeuzekom questioned definition (c) of check out bag.   Ms. Peterson stated that newspaper bags are exempt and advertising is not included.  Councillor vanBeuzekom asked if small produce bags are exempt.  No point of sale for free merchandise.  Ms. Peterson stated that this ordinance is about point of sale.  Bags that contain ads are exempt.  The ordinance is point of sale and does not affect things given out for free.  Newspaper issue was not addressed in any ordinance that Ms. Schlacter researched. 

Vice Mayor Simmons commented that companies that bundle advertisements are exempt because it is not a point of sale.  She stated that she wanted to see this ordinance passed to the full City Council for adoption, but wanted to know where this issue fell.

At this time Councillor Maher stated that the following e-mails were received and requested that they be made part of the record:

Communication received from Chris Greeley, Northwind Strategies, requesting the City Council to look at the issue beyond the optics (ATTACHMENT B).

Communication received from Michael Weiner, Owner, SavMor Liquors, 233 Alewife Brook Parkway, indicating that the discontinued use of plastic bags would negatively impact his establishment (ATTACHMENT C).

Communication from Brian Houghton, Vice President, MA Food Association, 31 Milk Street, Suite 518, Boston, MA, transmitting a Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Association on behalf of its voluntary participants to decrease distribution of both paper and plastic bags while increasing recycling and the sale of reusable bags (ATTACHMENT D).

Councillor Maher stated that the ban in Brookline is different than Cambridge.  Independent retails situated in different communities may have difficult navigating the different ordinances.  He asked how many cities and towns in the Commonwealth have this type o of ordinance.  Ms. Nancy Schlacter stated that there were no ordinances in the Commonwealth when she did the research.  Councillor Maher asked if Brookline did outreach.  Ms. Peterson stated that she did not know the Brookline process. 

Councillor Maher opened public comment at 10:32 AM.

Antonetta Oteri asked who will enforce the requirement that consumers bring sanitized bags.  If plastic bags are reused by consumers is the retail establishment liable for the consumer using these bags?  She stated that there is a need for a violation definition.

Tuck Welch stated that her organization supports this ordinance.  When the Charles River is cleaned up there are plastic bags and bottle debris.

Phil Sego, Mass. Sierra Club, spoke about the Brookline and Manchester ordinances which are similar to   Cambridge's.  In Barrington the ordinance was passed, but not implemented.  The Nantucket plastic bag ordinance has been in existence for 21 years.   There are other communities looking into banning plastic bags.  Plastic bags are a grave concern to the Sierra Club - they last forever and are lightweight and blow away.  When plastic bags break down they break down into small pieces and the micro plastics never go away and animals consume them.  The micro plastics cannot be removed from the environment.  There are alternatives:  paper and reusable bags.  If there is a charge for paper bags this only adds a minimal cost to grocery bills.  This fact does not change the consumer buying groceries.

Eric Baxtrom, 2304 Mass. Avenue, stated his support for the reduction of plastic bags for the safety of wildlife and litter issues.  His concern is selling cleaning supplies that leak - does it matter at the point of sale or from the shelf.  He spoke about waterproofing quality of reusable bags.  He would like to provide standard plastic shopping bags and favored a fee to use plastic bags versus a plastic bag ban.

Denise Jillson, Harvard Square Business Association, stated that her members expressed concern on how they do their business. She spoke about convenience and safely getting groceries home in the rain using public transportation.  She asked when will this ordinance be voted on and implemented.  She expressed her concern about informing her membership.

Councillor Maher stated that the City Council is wrapping up this term and a new City Council takes office in January.  This matter will be forwarded to new City Council in January and questions may arise.

Deputy City Manager Peterson stated that in the education campaign there will be a shift in the way people use plastic and that the shift will be to use reusable bags.   Reusable bags are being encouraged.

Vice Manager Simmons questioned how the City engages the Chamber of Commerce and the business associations in this process.  Change takes time.  An advertising campaign is needed to soften the impact for the smaller retailers.  It is important to reach out to the smaller retailers and explain how it improves our city and state.

Councillor Maher stated that it is his hope that in January the issues of public information on sanitizing the bags would be handled and if a consumer brings in a plastic bag and reuses it how would this be handled.  He asked how the issue of leaking produce, meat and fish would be handled.  Can a store for a fee sell a plastic bag to a consumer if they do not have a reusable bag if the weather is inclement?

Councillor Decker stated that Cambridge will not roll something out that the City does not have all the answers for.  The City will work with all business associations.  This is a big change; it is happening around the country.  She stated that the business community worked with the City in banning trans fats and will work together on this effort as well.  Cambridge has the resources and the relationships to eliminate plastic from the environment.  Cambridge is the best community to do this work.  She is happy that she was able to introduce this in her last term.  She is in favor of referring this to the new City Council.  The goal is to change the culture. 

At this time Councillor Decker made a motion to refer this matter to the new City Council with a favorable recommendation for adoption and implementation.

The motion carried on a voice vote.


On motion of Councillor vanBeuzekom the hearing adjourned at 10:59 AM.

For the Committee,

Councillor David P. Maher, Chair,
Ordinance Committee



View Roll Call Votes from March 30, 2015

View attached file


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