The Governor Said Massachusetts Will be the First State in the Nation to Take this Step

NBC Boston anchors on set next to Bottle Ban? headline

NBC Boston

Later this week, Gov. Maura Healey will sign an executive order that will prohibit state agencies from buying single-use plastic bottles effective immediately, a step that she said Massachusetts will be the first state in the nation to take and one that the Legislature has repeatedly declined to take over the last decade.

Healey made the announcement Monday morning at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York City, where she spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative ahead of a panel on sustainable ocean conservation practices. Though the governor was met with applause when she announced that she would sign an executive order that "bans the purchase of single-use plastics by state agencies in Massachusetts," Healey's office later clarified that the ban will apply only to single-use plastic bottles.

"We know that plastic waste, plastic production are among the leading threats to our oceans, our climate and environmental justice. In government, we have an obligation -- we also have an opportunity -- to not only stop contributing to this damage, but to chart a better path forward," Healey said. She added, "In our coastal state, we know climate change is our biggest threat. We also believe that taking action is our greatest opportunity, an opportunity to secure a safe, prosperous and sustainable future."

Plastic containers that are often used and discarded, clogging up landfills or making their way into waterways, have been in the crosshairs of environmentalists for years. Cities and towns across Massachusetts have banned single-use plastic shopping bags as well as plastic water bottles, plastic straws are giving way in some municipalities to paper alternatives, and lawmakers have repeatedly filed bills to restrict the sale or use of plastic take-out containers and other products.

Americans use about 50 billion single-serve plastic water bottles a year, but only about 29 percent of those are recycled, the Sierra Club of Massachusetts said. Plastic water bottles do not biodegrade and remain in the environment for 1,000 years. Between the fossil fuels used to produce the bottles and their post-use environmental impacts, Sierra Club said said that the carbon footprint of bottled water is 11 to 31 times greater than that of tap water.

Some legislators have attempted in recent years to restrict the state's purchase of plastic water bottles, but the bills have been held in committees and none have emerged for votes in the House or Senate.

In 2014, the State Administration Committee killed legislation filed by former Rep. Tom Sannicandro to prohibit the use of state dollars to buy bottled water in most situations when a public water supply or potable well water is available by including it in a study order. The next session, Sannicandro's bill won the committee's endorsement but died without making it out the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Chris Walsh picked up the effort in 2017, but his bill met the same fate: it was reported favorably from the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, but then never resurfaced after being sent to House Ways and Means.

“Various plastic bans have been considered in the state legislature for a number of years and they never act on it,” said Professor Joan Fitzgerald, a public policy and climate expert at Northeastern.

She says the governor is signaling to state lawmakers that more needs to be done on statewide plastic issues.

“I think it sends a message that it’s time to act on these,” said Fitzgerald.

Image of Prof. Meg Sobkowicz-Kline from UMass Lowell website
Prof. Meg Sobkowicz-Kline
“Plastics provide enormous benefits to society including sustainability benefits like reducing carbon emissions from food waste and shipping of goods,” said Professor Meg Sobkowicz, a professor in plastics engineering at UMass Lowell. See video.

She says there needs to be a greater focus on recycling of plastics.

“They’re not going to go away completely so we need to redesign, rethink our relationship with them and figure out how to contend with the waste problem that they present in a safe, effective manner for the environment,” said Sobkowicz.

Healey also announced Monday a separate executive order she will sign this week to establish biodiversity conservation targets and strategies for 2030, 2040 and 2050. Those measures will aim to slow the decline of species diversity, which the governor said threatens the Bay State's public health, economic stability and food security.

"Steps taken will include working to stem the loss of salt marshes, which provide critically important habitat, protect inland areas from storm impacts, and remove large amounts of carbon from the atmosphere. And we'll be looking to strategies such as marine protected areas to ensure coastal and ocean habitats critical to our biodiversity can not only recover, but thrive," Healey said. "We know that our seas and forests are the most fundamental climate resources we have and we are determined to protect them."

There are 173 species of animals and 259 species of plants that are protected under the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act.

"The most pervasive and serious threats to rare species in Massachusetts include: habitat loss (generally due to human activities); habitat degradation (resulting from pollution, alteration of natural disturbance regimes, invasive exotic species, or other factors); predators, parasites, diseases, or competitors; and, for some taxa, the taking of individual organisms or the disruption of breeding activity," the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife wrote in a document that explains how species are added to or removed from the list.