Phase 2 of Plastic Bag Ban Ordinance Begins Oct. 1

As you may know, this past December the Melrose Board of Aldermen unanimously voted to adopt a Reusable and Recyclable Bag ordinance.

This initiative was spearheaded by the Melrose Recycling Committee and with its passage, Melrose joins over 60 other cities and towns that have taken an important step in reducing litter and protecting our environment.

The effective date for the new ordinance varies by business size:

  • July 1st for retail establishments with interior finished floor area of more than 8,000 sq. feet;
  • October 1st for retail establishments with interior finished floor area of 8,000 sq. feet or less.

Frequently Asked Questions Related to Bag Ordinance:

What is the new law? 
The Reusable and Recyclable Bag Ordinance defines the type of checkout bags that businesses may provide to customers.

Why did Melrose pass this law?
Melrose joins 64 other cities/towns in Massachusetts with laws to reduce plastic bag pollution.  

The purpose of this ordinance is to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags that are being used, discarded, and/or littered and to promote the use of reusable bags and recyclable paper bags in Melrose.

  • 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 doesn’t biodegrade, it breaks down into microparticles over time.  Plastic particles have been found in many species of birds and fish, in soil, and in 94% of US drinking water sampled.
  • Reusable bags and recycled paper bags are much better solutions for human health and the environment.
  • The average plastic bag is used for only 12 minutes before it is discarded.  Americans use an estimated 326 bags per person, every year.  Here in Melrose, we use about 9,000,000 plastic bags every year.
  • While paper bags also use resources, paper breaks down relatively quickly and does not create the long-term environmental problems caused by plastic pollution.

After a year of community education and outreach by the Melrose Recycling Committee, the Board of Aldermen passed the law unanimously on December 18, 2017.

Important information and frequently asked questions

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

The new law applies to a broad range of businesses and organizations in Melrose. 

Specifically the law is applicable to all “Retail Establishments” defined as any person, corporation, partnership, business venture, or vendor that sells or provides merchandise, goods or materials directly to the customer, whether for or not for profit, including, but not limited to, convenience and grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, stores that sell wine, beer or spirits, seasonal and temporary businesses, jewelry stores and household goods stores. 


What types of bags can be provided to customers under the new law?
The law applies only to checkout bags, defined as a carryout bag provided to a customer at the point of sale. 

Checkout bags must be either a Recyclable Paper Bag or a Reusable Bag.  See definitions below.

Recycleable Paper Bag

A compliant paper bag meets all three criteria:

  1. Is 100% recyclable, including the handles;
  2. Contains at least 40% post-consumer recycled paper content; and
  3. Displays the words “Recyclable” and “made from 40% post-consumer recycled content” (or greater amount) in a visible manner on the outside of the bag.

Reuseable Bag


A compliant reusable bag is specifically designed for multiple uses. It meets all five of these criteria:

  1. Sewn bag with stitched handles
  2. Can carry 25 pounds;
  3. Is machine washable or is made of a material that can be cleaned or disinfected 125 times;
  4. Is made of either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or other natural fiber material; and
  5. Has a thickness of greater than 4.0 mils.


NO plastic checkout bags



Plastic checkout bags, regardless of thickness, do not meet the definition of a reusable bag and are not allowed under the new ordinance.


When does the ordinance take effect?

The effective date for the new ordinance varies by business size.

  • July 1 for retail establishments with an interior finished floor area of more than 8,000 square feet
  • October 1 for retail establishments with an interior finished floor area of 8,000 square feet or less

Keep these dates in mind when ordering bag stock to avoid buying non-compliant bags that cannot be distributed in Melrose after the effective date.


Aside from checkout bags, are any plastic bags allowed?

Yes, these four categories of bags are allowed under the law:

  1. Bags, whether plastic or not, in which loose produce or products are placed by a consumer to deliver such items to the point of sale or checkout area of a retail establishment;
  2. Laundry or dry-cleaner bags;
  3. Newspaper bags; or
  4. Bags used to contain or wrap products, whether prepackaged or not, to prevent or contain moisture.

To reduce the negative effects of all plastic bags, we hope businesses will encourage customers to reduce their reliance on plastic packaging and choose reusable or more sustainable packaging options. 

How can I encourage customers to use fewer bags? Many residents in Melrose want to reduce waste and keep Melrose clean. You can save money on bag supplies and help the environment when you: 

  • Post signs to remind customers to bring their own bag, or only take a bag when needed.
  • Offer customers an incentive to “BYO” Bag, such as a small discount (5 or 10-cents) per reusable bag or other incentive program that works for your business 
  • Train staff to not automatically bag a customer’s purchase, especially when a bag may not be needed.  Instead, ask customers “do you need a bag today?”  When purchases are too quickly placed in a single-use bag, customers don’t have a chance to get out their own bag or decline an unnecessary bag.

How do I source bags that comply with the ordinance? When you buy checkout bags for your business, be sure the bag meets the requirements listed above. Show the ordinance to your supplier/distributor to make sure bags comply with the Melrose ordinance.  While many other cities passed similar laws, the bag laws are not all the same. 

Do not use bags made of plastic (polyethylene or HDPE), even if the bag is thick or marked “reusable”.  Reusable bags must be made of either polyester, polypropylene, cotton or other natural fiber material. 


Can customers bring their own plastic checkout bags for reuse?

  • Yes.  The law does not restrict the type of bag a customer may bring for reuse. The intent is to encourage customers to bring their own bag or only use a bag when needed. 

What are the penalties for non-compliance? The penalties for any violation of this ordinance shall be as follows:

  1. First violation: written warning, which will enable the violator to cure such violation within 30 days.
  2. Second violation: if, after 30 days, the violation has not been cured, the penalty shall be $25.
  3. Third violation and all subsequent violations: $100.

After a third violation, continuing violation will result in a fine of $100 per day.

How will the law be enforced? This ordinance shall be enforced by the Health Department, Inspectional Services Department, City Clerk, or any other department having jurisdiction for licensing, inspectional services and code enforcement.

Who do I contact with questions? You may contact Mike Lindstrom in the Mayor’s Office, at or 781-979-4440.