Plastic Bag Business FAQs

What types of bags are being eliminated?

The ordinance specifically prohibits single-use, thin-film plastic bags, which are bags made of non-biodegradable plastic that are less than 4 mil thickness (4/1000th of an inch), to be given out by retail establishments in Medford. However, the law does not restrict the type of bag a customer may bring for reuse.             

What types of bags are acceptable?

  1. Paper bags that are 100% recyclable and contain at least 40% post-consumer recycled content and are labeled as such.
  2. Reusable bags made of cloth (must be sturdy, have handles, and be able to be washed or disinfected)
  3. Reusable bags made of non-toxic plastic no less than 4 mils (non-toxic means plastic other than polyethylene or polyvinyl chloride (PVC))
  4. Bags customers use inside establishments to package bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, grains, candy, etc.; contain or wrap frozen foods, meat or fish; contain or wrap flowers, potted plants, etc.
  5. Laundry or dry-cleaning bags; bags used for garbage waste, pet waste, yard waste; or bags sold in packages intended to be used for home food storage.

What type of businesses and organizations must comply with the new law?

The law applies to all retail establishments including, but not limited to, convenience and grocery stores; restaurants; pharmacies; stores that sell wine, beer or spirits; seasonal and temporary businesses; jewelry stores; hair salons; and household goods stores. If your business supplies a consumer with a product – whether paid or unpaid – then you must comply with this law.

If you are uncertain about whether your business needs to follow the ordinance, please contact the Board of Health at 781-393-2560.

Why did Medford pass this ordinance?

The idea for the ordinance emerged from a group of Medford High School students who created an online petition calling for the elimination of plastic bags in the city, which received more than 600 Medford resident signatures.

Medford joins more than 90 other municipalities in Massachusetts in this important initiative to reduce plastic bag pollution. Plastic bags create litter, jam recycling equipment when improperly placed in curbside bins, require fossil fuels to manufacture, and contribute to plastic pollution on land and in the water. Plastic bags do not biodegrade, and instead break into microparticles that have been found in many species of birds and fish, in soil, and in drinking water. Americans use an average of 326 bags per person, every year.

How will the law be enforced?

The Board of Health Inspectors and the Code Enforcement Officers will be responsible for enforcing this ordinance, which will go into effect on Tuesday, July 16, 2019. The schedule of violations is as follows:

  • Upon first violation, the city will provide the retail establishment with a written notice that the violation has occurred.
  • For any subsequent offenses within the next 12 months, the establishment will receive a fine as follows:
    1. $100 for the second violation
    2. $200 for the third violation
    3. $300 for the fourth violation and each subsequent violation

What do I do if I believe I am unable to comply with this law?

Businesses that feel this law will create an undue hardship may apply for a temporary deferment that would allow extra time – up to one year – to comply with the ordinance.

  1. Circumstances unique to your establishment such that there are no reasonable alternatives to single-use plastic bags
  2. Circumstances where a retail establishment requires additional time in order to draw down an existing inventory of single-use plastic bags
  3. Circumstances or situations unique to the retail establishment such that compliance would deprive a person of a legally protected right

For details on what is required to apply for a deferment, and what constitutes an “undue hardship,” please contact the Board of Health at 781-393-2560.

Please click here to read the Thin-Film Plastic Bags Ordinance.