10,000 more petition signatures for the plastic bag ban

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Channing Jones

“And still counting,” says Environment Rhode Island

Environment Rhode Island

Providence – As the annual International Coastal Cleanup in Rhode Island approaches, Environment Rhode Island released its summer tally of petitions collected in support of a ban on plastic bags in Rhode Island. Plastic bags are consistently among the top items found in the annual cleanup. From May through August, Environment Rhode Island canvassers knocked on doors across the state to educate residents about the group’s campaign to ban plastic shopping bags. Over the course of the summer, the group collected more than 10,000 petition signatures from Rhode Island residents in a support of a statewide ban on plastic bags, to be delivered to state senators and representatives in their respective districts.

“Plastic debris is a growing problem facing marine ecosystems like Narragansett Bay,” said Channing Jones, Campaign Director with Environment Rhode Island. “Momentum is growing to eliminate plastic bags, one of the most common and unnecessary forms of this trash.”

When plastic trash enters the marine environment, it poses a direct threat to wildlife that can ingest or become entangled in it. While plastic never biodegrades, it does break apart into increasingly small fragments, accumulating in the marine environment and picking up toxic substances in the water. Filter feeders such as clams are particularly vulnerable to these tiny plastic bits.

Based on annual Ocean Conservancy data, plastic bags are a leading debris type found along Rhode Island’s coast. According to Jones: “Rhode Island uses hundreds of millions of plastic bags every year, and too many of them are littering our neighborhoods, parks, and roadsides. And because they are so light, they easily make their way into Narragansett Bay.”

Dozens of communities around the United States, including Barrington, R.I., as well as major cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, have taken action to stop the flow of this source of plastic litter by simply banning the distribution of plastic bags at retail establishments.

In February, companion bills to ban plastic checkout bags statewide in Rhode Island were introduced in the Rhode Island House of Representatives (H5407) and Senate (S404), sponsored respectively by Rep. Maria Cimini and Sen. Donna Nesselbush. The legislation aimed to prohibit the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags at the point of sale by Rhode Island retailers.

“The bill’s introduction in this past legislative session was an important step to protect the ocean and Narragansett Bay from plastic bags,” said Jones. “Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute the marine environment for future generations.”

Like most legislation, the bag ban did not pass in its first General Assembly session – but it did take initial steps in the legislative process, including committee hearings strong in supportive testimony. With the General Assembly on recess until January 2014, Environment Rhode Island plans to maintain its grassroots outreach effort into the fall.

“Rhode Islanders’ support for a plastic bag ban has been clear,” said Jones.

If the General Assembly passes the plastic bag ban, Rhode Island’s would be the first state-level bag ban legislation.