Melrose BYOBag Initiative Gains Momentum

By Phaea Crede

As anyone taking a stroll around the Fells can attest, plastic bag litter is everywhere. And they’re not just an eyesore: plastic bags are an environmental nightmare.

The United States uses 439 million gallons of oil a year manufacturing over 100 billion plastic bags that are used an average of 12 minutes. Once discarded, these bags litter our streets, get stuck in trees, clog drains, and choke or strangle animals like birds, turtles and fish. And, of course, they never, ever biodegrade. Traces of plastic can already be found in almost all marine life, including the fish that we eat.

For something that’s supposed to be a convenience item, plastic bags cause quite a lot of trouble.    

Like its surrounding cities, Melrose is currently part of the plastic problem. The town’s nearly 30,000 citizens use a little more than 9 million single-use plastic bags a year. 95% of those are not recycled at designated locations, which leaves over 8.5 million plastic bags thrown out annually to potentially wreak havoc on Melrose’s outdoor spaces and surrounding ecosystems, including the Fells.’

As of today, over 45 municipalities in Massachusetts have totally banned single-use plastic bags, and if the hard-working members of the Melrose Recycling Committee have their way, Melrose will be number 46 by 2018.

But first people need to be convinced that swapping out reusable bags for plastic bags isn’t a big deal. “We use plastic bags automatically, without thinking,” says Jeana McNeil, chair of the Single Use Bag subcommittee. “Our idea is [to] show people that it’s easy to change that habit.”  To this end, McNeil and her team of volunteers are pounding the pavement to show the citizens of Melrose how easy – and important – breaking the plastic bag habit can be. These projects include outreach and reusable bag distribution to senior centers, DIY reusable bag craft projects like this one, and information tables at the upcoming All Pond Clean Up on May 6th and the Healthy Melrose Fair on May 13th.

The group has also licensed the 2010 documentary Bag It, which delves into America’s plastic bag problem, and is screening it for clubs and congregations all over town, as well as on MMTV. You can watch it yourself here.

Feeling revved up? It’s very easy to get involved in the BYOBag Melrose movement, even if you don’t live in Melrose:

  •   “Like” BYOBag Melrose on Facebook for news and updates.


  •   Say “No, thanks!” to a plastic bag whenever you are offered one. (It’s ok to ask people to unbag your items if you’re not fast enough!)


  •   Bring your own reusable bag whenever and wherever you shop, especially at supermarkets who distribute around 2.5 million plastic bags a year each.


  •   Recycle any plastic bags you have (or pick off the street) at participating stores, like Shaw’s, Whole Foods and CVS. Note: You CANNOT recycle plastic bags in curbside bins.


  •   If you are a Melrose citizen, contact your Alderman and voice your support for the BYOBag Melrose Initiative.

The Melrose Recycling Committee meets the first Thursday of every month, usually at the library, and they always welcome new members. For more info call 781-775-5058.

This year 9 million plastic bags – next year…zero? Together we can make it happen!