State Inaugurations Fraught with Waste

By TIM FAULKNER and DAVE FISHER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — During his inauguration, Gov. Lincoln Chafee pledged to be a friend of the environment, but the festivities of the day showed little evidence of a greener administration.

In his address, Chafee called for "proper stewardship of our amazing natural resources,” but the inaugural to-dos for the state’s newest elected officials were rife with examples of wasteful behavior and practices.

The waste impact of the inauguration ceremony started off on a bad foot, when the entire run of programs for the event had to be reprinted because of a typographical error. Tuesday's inauguration also included petroleum-intensive military flyovers by three UH-60 Army National Guard helicopters and two C-130J Air National Guard cargo planes. Immediately following the noontime program, a small catered reception in the Statehouse was stocked with non-recyclable plastic plates, cups and utensils, much of which ended up in the Statehouse Dumpster with recyclable soda cans and water bottles and destined for the Central Landfill in Johnston.

The waste went on into the evening unchecked. Disposable cups, plates and utensils were in widespread use at the four downtown restaurants hosting meet-and-greets with Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and Treasurer Gina Raimondo.

With the exception of Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, where the governor greeted well-wishers, none of the three other establishments separate any commingled recyclables, as mandated by the state. All glass, plastic, milk cartons, steel, tin and aluminum goes with the trash to the state landfill. According to the most recent records, none of the venues that hosted inaugural celebrations carry the Green Certification issued jointly by the Rhode Island Hospitality & Tourism Association and the state Department of Environmental Management.

Chafee’s senior advisor Stephen Hourahan said the venues weren’t asked to recycle or offer “greener” services, but he noted that the inauguration was 40 percent leaner this year. And cost-saving measures such as the elimination of limousines, and carpooling by government officials also helped the environment.

“There’s no better environmentalist than Linc,” Hourahan said of the new governor.

But Chafee spent a portion of his first half-day in office riding in what some environmentalists might consider a symbol of excess: a state-issued full-size SUV.

ecoRI News contacted each of the newly elected or re-elected officials but did not receive comments. All were e-mailed questions asking if it sends the wrong message holding a celebration, taxpayer funded or not, at establishments that violate state recycling mandates.

The governor also was asked why his inaugural celebration was held at a chain restaurant over a Rhode Island establishment.

Nevertheless, it appeared that on the first night of “a new era of opportunity for Rhode Island,"  as Chafee said in his speech, that businesses and commercial interests were not held to the same strict guidelines that state residents must adhere to regarding recycling, i.e. the “no bin, no barrel” policies that are enforced in many of Rhode Island’s towns and cities, including Providence.