By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
BARRINGTON, R.I. — Rhode Island officially has one community with a permanent bag ban, after the Town Council voted 3-2 on June 2 to make its prohibition on plastic shopping bags permanent.
In October 2012, the council approved a ban with the stipulation that it include a two-year sunset provision. The temporary ban was advanced in an effort to track its impact on the environment and local business. The Conservation Commission attempted to quantify the results, but in the end the impacts were mostly gauged by residents' observations.
“I’ve never once heard any person in front of me complain (about the ban) in the check-out line,” local resident Saundra Patrick told the council.
Patrick was one of 10 supporters to speak in favor of the ban, including Town Council Vice President Kate Weymouth.
Most supporters praised the town for being a leader on the issue. “It’s a national trend. We were at the beginning of it. And I think we should be very proud,” said Cyndee Fuller, head of the Conservation Commission.
Resident Amy O’Donnell collected signatures from 14 businesses that support the ban, including Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks and the Shell gas station. “All of them were happy about the bag ban,” she said.
Resident Margaret Kane was the lone voice to speak against the ban, calling it “a feel-good idea.” Reusable bags pose a health risk by spreading harmful bacteria such as E. coli, she said.
“Studies show that people don’t appreciate that a reusable bag needs to be cleaned," Kane said.
Council members William DeWitt and Ann Strong voted against the measure, but neither spoke about their opposition.
Weymouth held up a bag of trash she recently collected while cleaning a public garden. “The good news was there was no single-use plastic bag on the premises," she said.
She noted that she and the town manager haven't received a complaint since the ban was enacted. “Single-use plastic check-out bags are the low-hanging fruit of the colossal plastic tree,” Weymouth said.
Supporters also suggested that ending the ban would diminish the sense of pride residents enjoy from being the first community in the state to enact such a ban.
“I think it would be regrettable and a little bit embarrassing if we were to end this ban,” Fuller said. “It put Barrington on the map in such a positive way."
More than 100 U.S. municipalities have restrictions on plastic bags. In Massachusetts, Brookline and Great Barrington have enacted bans on plastic shopping bags.
The environmental advocacy group Environment Rhode Island collected more than 10,000 signatures from residents and businesses in support of a statewide bag ban. Channing Jones, program director for Environment Rhode Island, said it’s unclear if the bills (H7178 and S2314) will advance in the General Assembly this year.
Town councils in Jamestown and Charlestown voted in support of the statewide legislation.