7300+ Rhode Islanders, 130+ small businesses call for plastic bag ban

Media Contacts
Channing Jones

John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Public comments delivered as bill receives first hearing

Environment Rhode Island

Providence– On April 3, 2013 at the Rhode Island State House, Environment Rhode Island presented over 7300 petition signatures – and letters signed by 134 Rhode Island businesses – in a support of a plastic bag ban. The public comments were delivered just before the Senate Environment & Agriculture Committee heard testimony around a bill (S404) that would ban plastic bags statewide.

“In the Ocean State, there is broad public support for banning plastic bags as a common sense protection for Narragansett Bay,” said Channing Jones, Program Associate with Environment Rhode Island. “People and businesses in Rhode Island know: Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute Narragansett Bay for future generations.”

According to Rep. Cimini, “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 and other bodies of water.”

Plastic bags are a leading debris type found in Rhode Island coastal cleanups. In waterways like Narragansett Bay, they pose a direct threat to wildlife that can ingest or become entangled in them. Longer term, while plastic bags never biodegrade, they do break apart into increasingly small fragments, accumulating in the marine environment and picking up toxic substances in the water.

In February, companion bills to ban plastic checkout bags statewide 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 is supported in the 2013 legislative agenda of the Environment Council of Rhode Island, the state’s largest coalition of environmental groups. On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Environment & Agriculture Committee heard testimony at the first hearing to address the legislation, the next step in the legislative process.

“Rhode Island has the chance to be first in the nation with a state policy banning plastic bags,” said Sen. Nesselbush. “It makes sense for a coastal state like Rhode Island to be an environmental leader on this issue.”

The Cimini-Nesselbush bill would prohibit the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags at the point of sale by Rhode Island retailers, effective January 2014 for large retailers and January 2015 for small businesses. Dozens of communities around the United States, including Barrington, R.I. in October, as well as major cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, have passed similar bans on a municipal level.

At Wednesday afternoon’s committee hearing, testimony in support of banning plastic bags was offered by environmental groups, local leaders, and activists. Among testimony givers, supporters outnumbered opponents by approximately 15 to 4.

“Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute Narragansett Bay for future generations,” said Environment Rhode Island’s Channing Jones. “A plastic bag ban is a common sense policy that will eliminate a significant source of trash threatening the Bay and other Rhode Island waterways. In Rhode Island, public support for a bag ban from Rhode Island residents and businesses is clear, and we urge the General Assembly to move swiftly to pass this historic legislation.”