Jamestown Quietly Joined Ocean State's Bag Ban Club

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

JAMESTOWN, R.I. — As plastic bag bans take effect Nov. 1 in both Newport and Middletown, Jamestown is also looking ahead to its own ban that begins on Earth Day 2018.

With little fanfare, the Town Council approved its plastic checkout bag ban, 4-1, on Sept. 18. The ban is similar to those passed by Newport, Middletown, and Barrington.

It wasn’t Jamestown’s first attempt to ban the bag. Several years ago, the Town Council turned down a mandate and instead elected to pursue a voluntary ban. The nonbinding ban failed to take hold, but as other coastal communities passed bag bans, supporters seized the momentum to act.

“It seems like everything was falling in line,” said Susan Maffei Plowden, a member of the ad hoc Sustainable Jamestown committee that advances local environmental initiatives.

Along with fellow resident Kate Petrie and town planner Lisa Bryer, the group met with retailers and led public meetings on the benefits of reducing plastic waste. The group also enlisted the help of Dave McLaughlin of Clean Ocean Access, who organized community support for the Newport and Middletown bag bans.

“We could be passionate about the issue, but Dave really had the facts and figures, and experience by working with the other towns,” Maffei Plowden said.

Rather than push a ban, the group focused on educating the public about the environmental benefits of reusable bags. They explained how small, personal decisions such as remembering to shop with a reusable bag or refusing a plastic straw make the shoreline and bay cleaner and healthier. Framing the ban as a benefit to Jamestown’s coastal identity drew support from businesses, including the town’s grocery store, McQuade’s Marketplace.

“We talked to people about what it means, not that there is a ban,” Maffei Plowden said.

“Most people really get it,” Bryer said. “It’s just a matter of making it look easy for people.”

There was little push back from residents and the ordinance was approved quickly by the Town Council.

Town administrator Andrew Nota said it helped that the process was led by residents rather than government.

“Although the facts and merits of the ban are the same, whether led by the community or local government, in this round of discussions, it was very important for community members to take the lead in advocating for the change, versus local government trying to move the issue forward,” Nota said.

Both Maffei Plowden and Bryer will use the time before the April 22 ban takes effect to educate the public and businesses about making the switch to reusable bags. They hope to have sponsors fund a reusable bag that they can give to residents on Earth Day.

“Jamestown is an amazing place where you can really get things done,” Bryer said.

As for other Rhode Island bag bans, Portsmouth is scheduled to hold its second public workshop on Nov. 9. The Portsmouth Town Council is expected to vote on the ban Nov. 27. If the ban is approved, all of Aquidneck Island would be free of plastic checkout bags. Clean Ocean Access is helping Bristol reconsider a ban, after the Bristol Town Council voted down an ordinance in 2013.

As for its next effort to reduce waste, Clean Ocean Access will launch a “Lighter Than Air” campaign to prohibit the release of decorative balloons.