Newport Considering Plastic Bag Ban

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

NEWPORT, R.I. — The City-by-the-Sea is considering a plastic bag ban, perhaps becoming the second community in Rhode Island with such a restriction.

The City Council voted, 6-1, May 25 to have the Planning Board, the Energy and Environment Commission and the administration explore the issue. Council member John Florez sponsored the resolution.

The details are being worked out, but Florez expects that some form of public engagement will take place in the months ahead, followed by a vote on the ban in January. Florez got the idea for a bag ban from a constituent, and soon after began studying the issue.

“I didn’t really realize the lasting impact (plastic bags) had on the well-being of our wildlife,” he said. “The more I learned I was just astounded about how bad of a predicament we are in.”

Florez included the following statistics in his resolution:

Hundreds of millions of plastic shopping bags are used in the Ocean State annually, most are used only once.

Beach cleanups rank plastic bags as one of the most commonly found items.

Plastic bags don't biodegrade in the ocean, but break into micro-plastic particles, which expose ocean food sources to synthetic materials and toxins.

He also noted that plastic bags can damage machinery at wastewater treatment plants and recycling plants, clog storm drains, and litter roadsides and beaches.

“Being a coastal in community in the Ocean State we owe it other communities to set an example,” Florez said.

The ban, he said, would be similar to the Reusable Checkout Bag Initiative passed by the Barrington Town Council in 2012. The ban prohibits most plastic retail checkout bags. Exempted bags include thin plastic bags for fruits and vegetables, frozen food, meats, unwrapped bakery goods and dry-cleaning bags. The ban was revised in February after some stores began using thicker plastic bags.

The Barrington ban also excludes bags considered biodegradable, compostable and oxo-biodegradable. Police enforce the ban and fines can reach up to $300.

In 2013, the Bristol Town Council voted down a bag ban.

About 35 municipalities in Massachusetts have bag bans, several enacted this week during financial town meetings. Westport is the only municipality in Connecticut with a ban. Legislation to enact statewide bag bans has stalled in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

City Council vice chairman Mario Camacho voted against the measure, saying he needed more time to study the concept.

Retail industry groups typically oppose bag bans because of the added costs for paper bags.