Rhode Island Considers Bill to Ban Plastic Bags

Rhode Island Considers Bill to Ban Plastic Bags

Providence, RI, STATE HOUSE, April 4, 2013 – Environment Rhode Island yesterday presented lawmakers with more than 7,300 signatures on a petition in support of legislation sponsored by Rep. Maria Cimini and Sen. Donna M. Nesselbush to ban plastic bags at store checkouts in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island should be among the leaders in the movement to ban plastic bags, said Representative Cimini. 

“As the Ocean State, we depend on the quality and beauty of our water and coastline. Tourism, seafood and maritime industries are important to Rhode Island and are all dependent on having a healthy ocean. Just like Hawaii, we should recognize that plastic bags harm some of our most important natural resources and that we really can and should live without them,” she said.

In addition to the petition, Environment Rhode Island Program Associate Channing Jones brought along a letter of support signed by more than 130 Rhode Island businesses.

“One of the most common types of trash found in coastal cleanups in Rhode Island and elsewhere is single-use plastic shopping bags, like the kind issued in grocery stores and other retail establishments. Rhode Island uses hundreds of millions of these bags every year, too many of which make their way into Narragansett Bay and other aquatic environments. We should not allow something we use for five minutes to pollute our Bay, our oceans, and coastal waters for generations to come,” said Jones. 

The petition, which Environment Rhode Island posted on its website, emphasized the dangerous effects that plastic bags can have on oceans and marine life in Ocean State, contend that “nothing we use for just five minutes should fill our waterways with trash and threaten the wildlife we treasure and depend on.”

The petition was presented to House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Arthur Handy, to whose committee the House bill is assigned and who is one of the bill’s cosponsors. Although no hearing has yet been scheduled by that committee, the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the Senate bill later yesterday. 

The legislation (2013-H 5403, 2013-S 404) would ban plastic shopping bags from being given to customers at stores’ checkouts, effective Jan. 1, 2014, in large stores with annual gross revenues of more than $5 million and one year later for smaller stores. Stores could offer recyclable paper bags, but would be required to charge 10 cents each for them as a means to encourage customers to bring reusable shopping bags and to prevent more-expensive paper bags from becoming a burden on retailers. Stores could also sell reusable bags made of cloth, paper or thicker, durable plastic.

Certain types of bags would be exempt, including sleeves used by dry cleaners to cover clean clothes or by florists to protect fresh flowers, barrier bags generally used to package fresh produce or to keep meats from leaking onto other groceries, and bags larger than 28 by 36 inches that might be necessary for bulkier items that wouldn’t fit in a typical reusable shopping bag.

The bill is based in part on a similar ban that is in place in Los Angeles – which also includes a 10-cent charge for paper bags – and partly on the ban that went into effect Jan. 1 in Barrington, which this year became the first community in Rhode Island to ban plastic bags.

Many Rhode Island grocery stores, including Price Rite and Aldi, that cater to budget-conscious or lower-income customers already charge customers for bags and encourage customers to reuse them.

Many cities across the country, particularly coastal communities, have similar bans. Every county in Hawaii has individually banned plastic bags as well, although Representative Cimini’s bill, if passed, would represent the first state law. 

Representative Cimini’s bill is cosponsored by Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Rep. David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), and Rep. Frank A. Ferri (D-Dist. 22, Warwick). 

Senator Nesselbush’s bill is cosponsored by Sen. Adam J. Satchell (D-Dist. 9, West Warwick), Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton), Sen. William J. Conley Jr. (D-Dist. 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence).

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