Newport Second R.I. Municipality to Ban the Bag

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

NEWPORT, R.I. — A second Rhode Island community has passed a bag ban. By a 7-0 vote March 8, the City Council swiftly approved a prohibition on single-use checkout bags.

The path to approval and the ordinance itself are similar to the bag ban Barrington passed in 2012.

The regulation was vetted by subcommittees and at public hearings. Council members reached out to about a dozen communities with bag bans for tips on implementing such a regulation. The concept received scant pushback at two City Council meetings.

Bag bans have been proliferating in recent years. Nearly 40 Massachusetts municipalities have bag bans. Connecticut has two.

In November, California became the first state to enact a bag ban, after voters approved a referendum. A bill legislating a statewide ban in Rhode Island has stalled in committee for several years.

Advocates say bag bans reduce pollution and curb the growing problem of plastic in waterways and landscapes, where they breakdown and enter the food chain.

Coastal communities, in particular, have favored bag bans as a means to reduce the amount of plastic harming sea life and cluttering beaches.

There has been pushback. Michigan, Idaho, Arizona and Missouri, for example, have approved legislation preventing municipalities from enacting bag bans. Retailers also have tried to skirt bag bans by offering thicker plastic bags that undermine the spirit of the law.

In 2015, Barrington increased the thickness of allowable plastic bags after Shaw’s, CVS and Talbots gave customers plastics bags that were labeled as reusable but were only slightly thicker than traditional single-use plastic bags.

The Newport ban takes effect Nov. 1, so businesses have time draw dawn their inventory and get through the busy summer tourist season before switching to paper bags. A “Bring Your Bag” subcommittee will organize an information campaign to help the public and businesses prepare for the switch to paper bags and encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags.

The advocacy and beach-cleanup organization Clean Ocean Access (COA) led the effort in Newport and is advancing its goal to ban plastic bags on Aquidneck Island. Middletown introduced a draft ordinance in February. Portsmouth has begun discussing a ban. COA collected nearly 12,000 plastic bags during beach cleanups on Aquidneck Island in 2016. About two-thirds were single-use supermarket bags.

At a Feb. 22 meeting, City Council member Kathryn Leonard said she was reluctant to endorse a bag ban but favored one after residents and businesses didn't embrace reusable bags voluntarily.

All of the City Council members said the ban would benefit Newport.

“I really believe this is the right way to go,” City Council member Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said.