Ordinance introduced in Warren, R.I. would ban plastic checkout bags in town

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Channing Jones

Environment Rhode Island

Warren, R.I. — On Tuesday evening, the Warren Town Council conducted a first reading of an ordinance to ban disposable plastic checkout bags in the town. The legislation could make Warren the first municipality in Rhode Island – and among the first in New England – to reduce litter and marine debris by enacting a bag ban.

“We need to keep plastic out of Narragansett Bay,” said Channing Jones, associate with Environment Rhode Island, an environmental advocacy group with members in Warren. “Nothing we use for just five minutes should fill our waterways with trash and threaten the wildlife we treasure and depend on.”

Plastic shopping bags, which have become ubiquitous over recent decades, are easily carried by wind into parks, rivers, and beaches. Once plastic bags enter the marine environment, they kill animals like birds, sea turtles, and whales that confuse the bags for food, causing them to starve or choke to death. Plastic also threatens fish and clams as it breaks into tiny fragments and absorbs toxic pollutants.

Because plastic does not biodegrade, scientists estimate it will remain in the environment for hundreds of years or more.

“Everyone hates plastic bags,” said Jones. “Luckily, Warren can protect Narragansett Bay and be leader for the environment by becoming the first Rhode Island municipality to ban them.”

At the reading for the ordinance, introduced by Councilman Davison Bolster, Environment Rhode Island presented an endorsement for a bag ban signed by six Warren businesses, as well as a petition signed by nearly fifty Warren residents. The proposed ordinance would ban disposable plastic checkout bags at the point of sale, and would place a mandatory fee on paper bags that would go to retailers to cover the extra cost of paper.

“By banning plastic checkout bags in Warren, we can eliminate this source of trash while encouraging responsible thought and efforts on the part of retailers and consumers and increasing the use of reusable consumer owned bags,” said Lisa Wagenbach, volunteer for the Surfrider Foundation, an international foundation with Warren members dedicated to the health and preservation of oceans and coastlines.

Similar ordinances have been passed in dozens of municipalities along the West Coast and other parts of the United States. Entire nations such as Italy and China have also banned or regulated plastic bags.

“This is an opportunity for Warren to lead the way in Rhode Island on this issue,” said Jones. “It’s time for the Ocean State to protect its waters by joining the bag ban movement.”