Jamestown and Charlestown councils voice support for statewide plastic bag ban

Media Contacts
Channing Jones

Environment Rhode Island

Jamestown–– On Monday evening, the Town Council of Jamestown voted to approve a letter from the Jamestown Conservation Commission to state lawmakers in support of the proposed legislation to ban disposable plastic checkout bags statewide in Rhode Island (H7178/S2314). The news comes one week after Charlestown’s Town Council passed a resolution supporting the legislation as well.

“Municipal leaders understand that plastic bags are a problem,” said Channing Jones, Campaign Director with Environment Rhode Island. “Whether they’re carelessly discarded or get blown out of garbage trucks and dumpsters, plastic bags easily end up caught in trees, lining roadsides, littering parks, clogging storm drains––and making their way over time downstream to Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island’s coast.”

In the final several weeks of the Rhode Island General Assembly’s 2014 legislative session, increasing numbers of bills are set to emerge out of committee to see floor votes. In March and April respectively, the House Environment & Natural Resources Committee and Senate Environment & Agriculture Committee held initial hearings for House Bill 7178 and Senate Bill 2314, the companion bills to ban plastic shopping bags statewide in Rhode Island. Environmental groups, municipal leaders, small business owners, and concerned citizens attended the hearings to testify in support of the measure, with supportive testimony outnumbering opposition by a factor of 7 or more to 1 at both hearings. However, the bills have not yet been scheduled for committee votes.

Rhode Island uses hundreds of millions of plastic bags every year, and they are a leading debris type found in Rhode Island coastal cleanups. In waterways like Narragansett Bay, these bags 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 plastic bag ban is supported as a legislative priority by the Environment Council of Rhode Island, the state’s coalition of environmental groups. The legislation would prohibit the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags at the point of sale by Rhode Island retailers, effective January 2015 for large retailers and January 2016 for small businesses. Over one hundred communities around the United States, including Barrington, R.I., as well as major cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, have passed similar bans on a municipal level. If H7178/S2314 passes, Rhode Island’s would be the first state-level bag ban policy. Massachusetts and California are among other states considering statewide proposals.

Earlier this year, Environment Rhode Island delivered more than 10,000 signatures to the General Assembly from residents around Rhode Island in support of a ban on plastic bags. At the committee hearings, the group also presented a list of over 170 Rhode Island businesses that have added their names to Environment Rhode Island’s list of bag ban supporters.

“Plastic bags pollute Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island’s environment,” said Jones. “With reusable bags readily available, nothing we use for five minutes should pollute the Bay, threaten wildlife, and litter Rhode Island for future generations. Lawmakers should recognize local support from around Rhode Island for the plastic bag ban and give it the floor vote it deserves.”