Statewide Bag-Ban Bill Seen as Ploy to Undo Local Bans

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

As local bag bans gain momentum in Rhode Island, there is concern that a proposed statewide ban could wipe them out and eventually end bag bans for good.

So far, seven states, including Florida, have so-called "bag-ban preemption laws" that prohibit municipal bag bans. These efforts are led by bag manufactures who want to protect the sale of their ubiquitous containers, which Americans use at a rate of about 325 million daily, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Barrington, Newport and Middletown have enacted bans on plastic checkout bags. Jamestown and Portsmouth are, at least, talking about such as ban. A bill (H5946) introduced by Rep. John Edwards, D-Portsmouth, would enact a statewide ban on not only plastic bags but also ban plastic water bottles and Styrofoam food containers. The Rhode Island chapter of Clean Water Action, however, is crying foul, calling the bill a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“It was written by the plastic packaging industry, for the plastic packaging industry,” according to a recent Clean Water Action legislative alert.

Clean Water Action says the statewide bag ban is really a device for undoing the three existing municipal bans and prevent cities and towns from creating new ones.

The current bill is a copy of a proposed plastics ban that has stalled in the Senate during the past two years. At a June 21 House hearing, Edwards said a revision of his bill would be introduced this week. It would strip out the bans on foam and bottles and include language that cancels out existing local bag bans.

According to Clean Water Action, the revised bill is expected to include language that creates loopholes for plastic-bag use and would allow bag manufactures to sell variations of plastic bags.

So far, however, a new hearing date hasn't been scheduled and the General Assembly is expected to wrap up for the year by the end of the week. John Berard, Rhode Island state director for Clean Water Action, is urging supporters to call their state representatives and senators and urge them not to allow a second hearing for the bill and to oppose a companion bill in the Senate.

“Rep. Edwards said this bill is great for the environment and it’s not,” Berard said.

A call to Edwards wasn't returned.