MassDEP launched a joint initiative with the supermarket industry to cut the number of disposable paper and plastic grocery bags distributed in Massachusetts by 2013.

Each year, Massachusetts grocery stores distribute over 1.5 billion paper and plastic bags. In many cases, these bags are used only once. A small percentage is recycled. But too often, bags become unsightly litter in communities and add to soaring waste disposal costs.

The reduction, recycling and reuse of materials by residents and businesses is a top priority for MassDEP, as we work to minimize the waste stream, MassDEP Commissioner Laurie Burt said. Massachusetts supermarkets are partnering with us to significantly reduce waste and litter, and help consumers conserve natural resources. Cutting down on the number of grocery bags we use and throw away is something all of us can easily do.

Reducing paper and plastic bag use in our state is not only good for the environment, but good for business, said MFA president Christopher Flynn. We expect this incentive-based, voluntary approach to maintain a balance between environmental stewardship and consumer choice.

Flynn also noted that in tight economic times, stores can realize and pass along to customers a cost savings by distributing fewer disposable bags. Flynn said that a number of MFA members have already instituted aggressive programs to promote reduction of disposable bag waste, including locating on-site plastic bags recycling receptacles near store entrances or bottle and can redemption areas.

Nearly all Massachusetts supermarkets now offer recycling programs that collect plastic shopping bags, shrink wrap, and other plastic wrapping materials. Most of the plastic is recycled into consumer products such as plastic decking and lawn furniture.

Through its agreement with the state, MFA will provide new technical assistance materials and services to expand existing recycling efforts and help additional supermarkets get started. Previous voluntary initiatives between MassDEP and the trade group have resulted in innovative and nationally recognized methods for helping supermarkets recycle cardboard and shrink wrap and compost the food wastes they generate.

For more than ten years, the supermarket industry has been a leader in demonstrating its commitment to waste reduction, recycling and composting in Massachusetts, Commissioner Burt said. We hope other businesses will follow the lead of this major retail sector and take the initiative to also reduce their use of disposable bags.