Lawmakers receive 10,000+ signatures supporting plastic bag ban

Media Contacts
Channing Jones

Public comments delivered as bill set to be reintroduced in 2014

Environment Rhode Island

Providence––On Wednesday, advocacy group Environment Rhode Island delivered over 10,000 public comments to state lawmakers in support of a plastic bag ban in Rhode Island. The petition delivery comes one day before the expected 2014 introduction of a plastic bag ban bill in the Rhode Island House of Representatives by State Rep. Maria Cimini (Providence).

“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. “Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute the Bay for future generations.”

Public comments delivered by Environment Rhode Island included petition signatures collected by the group’s citizen outreach staff and volunteer team, as well as online signatures from recent action takers on the group’s website and––all urging lawmakers to support a ban on plastic bags. The delivery comes on top of 7300 signatures presented to lawmakers last spring.

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.

Rep. Cimini initially introduced a bill to ban plastic bags in February 2013 (H5407), with a Senate counterpart (S404) sponsored by State Sen. Donna Nesselbush (Pawtucket). “Hearings on the plastic bag ban were more heavily attended that any other environmental hearings I saw at the State House last year,” said Jones, “with about three quarters of the testimony supportive. However, opposition from the plastics and packaging industry helped keep the bill from advancing to a floor vote.”

The legislation was supported in the 2013 legislative agenda of the Environment Council of Rhode Island, the state’s largest coalition of environmental groups. Rep. Cimini’s 2014 bill will be largely similar to last year’s version, with some operational tweaks and clarifications. As before, the bill will prohibit the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags at the point of sale by Rhode Island retailers, effective on the first of the coming year for large retailers and one year later for small businesses. One notable shift from the 2013 version is that a fee on paper bags is not expected in this year’s bill.

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, with or without a paper bag fee.

“Banning plastic bag ban is a common sense policy that will eliminate a significant source of trash threatening the Bay and other Rhode Island waterways,” said Jones. “I applaud Representative Cimini for reintroducing a bill to ban plastic bags statewide, and I urge Rhode Island lawmakers to pass this legislation in 2014.”