Barrington–– On Monday evening, Barrington's town council voted to remove the original sunset clause in the town's Reusable Bag Ordinance. The ordinance, which went into effect in January 2013, banned Barrington retailers from distributing single-use plastic checkout bags at the point of sale; a sunset provision ending the ban after two years was initially included to give the policy a trial period before making it permanent. By striking the sunset date, the council's reaffirmation of Barrington's ordinance comes as state lawmakers consider proposed legislation to ban plastic bags statewide in Rhode Island.
"Plastic bags pollute Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island's environment," said Channing Jones, campaign director with Environment Rhode Island. "Barrington's leadership has shown that banning plastic bags is a simple, effective, and commonsense policy. With reusable bags readily available, nothing we use for five minutes should pollute the Bay, threaten wildlife, and litter Rhode Island for future generations."
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.
At Monday's town council meeting, residents and environmental advocates spoke in favor of making Barrington's plastic bag ban permanent. According to Barrington resident Amy O'Donnell, who, at a council member's suggestion, spoke with owners and managers at 14 retail establishments in town, including CVS, Barrington Books, and Shell Gas: "All of them were happy about the bag ban," she said.
When it passed its plastic bag ban two years ago, Barrington was only the second New England municipality to do so. Since then, several Massachusetts towns have banned plastic bags, and both Rhode Island's and Massachusetts' state legislatures are considering state-level bans.
"Barrington's plastic bag ban has been non-controversial and effective," said Barrington Town Council member Kate Weymouth. "Our town council passed the ban due to broad public support, and residents and businesses have adjusted easily. But while we have eliminated this source of plastic pollution from our town, the true measure of our ban's success will be if the state of Rhode Island follows suit."
Earlier in 2014, state legislation was introduced and heard in committee that would prohibit the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags at the point of sale by all Rhode Island retailers, effective January 2015 for large businesses and January 2016 for small ones. With just weeks left in the current General Assembly session, neither the Senate bill (S2314), sponsored by Sen. Frank Lombardo of Johnston, or the House bill (H7178), sponsored by Rep. Maria Cimini of Providence, has been given the nod from top leadership to pass out of a committee to a floor vote. If H7178/S2314 passes, Rhode Island's would be the first state-level bag ban policy.
"State lawmakers should learn from Barrington's example and give the statewide plastic bag ban the vote it deserves," said Jones. "A win for the Bay is a win for Rhode Island's economy."