At committee hearing, support for Rhode Island bag ban

Media Contacts
Channing Jones

Environment Rhode Island

Providence–– On Thursday, the House Environment & Natural Resources Committee heard testimony around the House bill (H5403) that would ban plastic bags statewide. Supporters included environmental, wildlife, and conservation groups, academics, local leaders, and concerned citizens, including a local mother and a Rhode Island oyster farmer.

“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 that nothing we use for five minutes should pollute Narragansett Bay for future generations.”

Earlier in April, Environment Rhode Island presented to state lawmakers over 7300 petition signatures signed by Rhode Island residents––as well as statement signed by over 130 Rhode Island businesses––in support of banning plastic bags.

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.

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.

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. If H5403/S0404 passes, Rhode Island’s would be the first state-level bag ban legislation.

“Banning plastic bags is a simple, effective way to eliminate [plastic bag] pollution,” said Rep. Cimini. “As the Ocean State, Rhode Island should be a leader on this issue.”

“In Rhode Island, public support for a bag ban from Rhode Island residents and businesses is clear,” added Jones. “We urge the General Assembly to move swiftly to pass this important legislation.”