Providence City Council Approves Plastic Bag Ban

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — There was no last-minute objection to the city’s latest ordinance to ban plastic retail bags. Instead, the proposal was approved quickly and with no speechifying.

Only City Council member Jo-Ann Ryan spoke, to remind everyone why her proposal helps the environment and the budget. Ryan noted that plastic bags last 1,000 years, causing pollution from the moment they are made. Improper disposal costs the city $1 million a year because of contamination to the recycling stream.

“We’re making history today and I think it’s great that it’s happening on Earth Day,” Ryan said before the council approved the second and final reading of the ban, 12-0.

The proposed law heads to Mayor Jorge Elorza’s desk for his signature.

The vote came the same night that Westerly was expected to vote on a bag ban. If both are approved, Rhode Island would have 12 municipalities with identical ordinances prohibiting thin-film plastic shopping bags.

The Providence ban passed the City Council last year but was vetoed by Elorza after a late push from environmental justice groups who argued that a mandatory 10-cent fee on replacement checkout bags was a burden on low-income residents.

There is no fee in the new ordinance.

The ad hoc citizen group Zero Waste Providence organized the bag ban movement, convening several community meetings and reusable bag swaps at city library branches.

After the vote, several members of the citizens group praised the ordinance.

“It really takes the power of the masses to come together to really change this huge global problem,” said Lanna Nawa, owner of the socially responsible retailer Impact Everything on Thayer Street.

If approved by Elorza, the ban will take effect in six months. The city’s Office of Sustainability will offer education on the ban to residents and business owners.

The General Assembly and Gov. Gina Raimondo back legislation for a statewide bag ban. The bills have the support of the environmental community but there are objections to an exemption for thicker plastic shopping bags. There is also fear that a state ban will preempt stronger local bag ban rules.

Bag bans have been approved in Barrington, Block Island, Bristol, Jamestown, Newport, North Kingstown, Middletown, Portsmouth, South Kingstown, and Warren. In addition to Westerly, East Providence is expected to pass a bag ban at its next City Council meeting