Providence/Newport/Kingston–– As Rhode Island lawmakers consider proposed legislation to ban plastic shopping bags statewide, approximately 75 volunteers and activists turned out Saturday for the Rhode Island Plastic Bag Hunt, a statewide scavenger hunt for plastic bag litter hosted by Environment Rhode Island. Participants set out in teams and took photographs of plastic bags to complete a checklist––with items from "find a plastic bag on a beach or shoreline" to "find someone using a reusable bag".
"Plastic bags are everywhere in Rhode Island," said Channing Jones, Campaign Director with Environment Rhode Island. "Luckily, Rhode Island lawmakers have an opportunity this spring to ban plastic shopping bags statewide. With reusable bags readily available, nothing we use for five minutes should pollute the Bay, threaten wildlife, and litter Rhode Island for future generations."
As a thin film, plastic bags pose a unique nuisance. Whether they’re carelessly discarded or get blown out of garbage trucks, dumpsters, or the landfill, plastic bags easily end up caught in tress, lining roadsides, littering parks, clogging storm drains, and making their way over time downstream to Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island’s coast. In waterways like Narragansett Bay, plastic bags pose a direct threat to wildlife that can ingest or become entangled in them. Longer term, although 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 Saturday's Plastic Bag Hunt, volunteers sought to raise visibility for the ubiquity of plastic bag trash in towns around Rhode Island, with photographs taken in areas around the state. The photos will be delivered to General Assembly members representing the towns in which the photos were taken.
State lawmakers are considering companion bills (House Bill 7178 and Senate Bill 2314) to 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. The bills are being sponsored by State Rep. Maria Cimini (Providence) and State Sen. Frank Lombardo (Johnston). The legislation is supported in the 2014 legislative agenda of the Environment Council of Rhode Island, the state's largest coalition of environmental groups.
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. Massachusetts and California are among other states considering statewide proposals.
"Banning plastic bags is a common sense policy that will eliminate a significant source of trash threatening Rhode Island's environment, including waterways like Narragansett Bay," said Jones. "I'd like to thank all of the volunteers who participated in the scavenger hunt on Saturday, and I urge Rhode Island lawmakers to heed their message and ban plastic bags this spring."