MA Senate Budgets for Plastics Alternative Program

May 24, 2024
• State Sen. Becca Rausch, who represents Needham, cosponsored a budgetary amendment wherein small businesses could receive grants to implement alternatives to plastics.

After a late-night unanimous approval of the nearly $58 billion Senate budget for FY25 Thursday, Needham could potentially further reduce its plastic pollution via a line item introduced by Rausch.

The proposed grant pilot program would provide $150,000 for small businesses to shift toward more environmentally friendly products and away from single-use plastics. That would include food packaging, bags and water bottles, according to the amendment.

This comes after Needham’s Annual Town Meeting approved a bylaw that would forbid retailers from dispensing plastic splash guards, plastic stirrers and Styrofoam, and only allow them to give out plastic straws upon request. Last year, Town Meeting passed a single-use plastic bag ban.

Her constituents and local business owners have signaled the importance of taking climate action and reducing plastics, Rausch said, but transitioning to sustainable products can be expensive. Through this amendment, Rausch said she hopes local businesses can be further supported in making that change.

“Plastic is polluting from the very start of its inception. It’s made from oil, made from fossil fuels,” Rausch said in an interview. “So this funding will help make the transition that Town Meeting in Needham and many, many other communities have said we need to make.”

Rausch also serves as the Senate chair of the Joint Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources and crafted the Plastics Reduction Act.

The Senate budget, however, differs from the House budget passed last month, which means Rausch’s proposal may not be included in the final budget Gov. Maura Healey will eventually sign. Still, Rausch’s amendment was adopted by the Senate unanimously, and she said she has heard similar support from her House colleagues.

Should the pilot program be included, Rausch said she’ll work alongside the executive branch to roll out the initiative. It will be up to the Healey Administration to execute the funding portion of the program, Rausch said.

“This is a significant issue that needs attention and work,” she said, “and so we’re doing that work.”

Green Needham, the organization that put forth both plastic bans at Town Meeting, feels the legislative action is “an exciting step,” member Kathy Raiz said. Raiz and fellow Green Needham member Rob Fernandez advocated for the plastic ban on the floor of Town Meeting earlier this month.

In their initial citizens petition, Raiz and Fernandez included a ban on plastic water bottles, but local business owners voiced their opposition, citing the higher price that comes with aluminum or other non-plastic bottles, Raiz said. They removed the water bottle component from the bylaw before Town Meeting.

State support is crucial, Raiz said, and she feels the grants could help reduce plastics in town, including water bottles.

“These types of grants would give [retailers] the opportunity and flexibility to explore some of the alternatives without that revenue loss,” she said.

Greg Reibman, president and CEO of the Charles River Regional Chamber, which includes a couple hundred restaurants among its members, called the plan “a good starting point” but cast doubt on its ability to support businesses in the long-term. Considering all the businesses across the Commonwealth, Reibman said the $150,000 “would probably go pretty quickly.”

While he applauded Rausch for her efforts, Reibman said restaurants would still face a challenge with funding. He said he’s not sure what the right amount might be.

“They’d love to switch away from plastics and find alternatives, but the alternatives are very expensive,” Reibman said of restaurants.

The Senate budget also includes funding for early education and the Hey Sam youth mental health helpline, as well as an amendment that offers education materials to schools about how to teach and discuss antisemitism and other “top-of-mind” issues, Rausch said.

“We are putting our funding where our values are,” Rausch said.

Previous post Absenteeism Policy Draws School Committee Concern
Next post New Fee Aims to Fund Stormwater Work