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Providence City Council considering plastic bag ban



“The production, use, and disposal of single-use plastic bags have significant adverse impacts on the environment and are a serious economic burden to the City’s solid waste disposal and single-stream recycling systems,” Providence City Council Majority Whip Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5). “Reducing single-use plastic bags will help to curb litter on our streets and waterways, protect the marine environment, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions… The economic reasons are also significant as the City will save at least $1 Million each year by removing this common contaminant to our recycling system. This initiative will also help to remove 95 million single-use bags annually from our landfill.”

Ryan introduced introduced an ordinance on Thursday “that calls for a reduction of single-use plastic bags and encourages the use of reusable checkout bags at retail establishments throughout the City. This ordinance addresses significant environmental and economic concerns facing the City and is modeled after those successfully passed in other municipalities and is most similar to the one recently passed in Boston.”

Highlights of the Ordinance Include:

  • It exempts certain types of plastic bags such as dry cleaning or laundry bags, bags used to wrap or contain frozen foods or prevent or contain moisture, etc.
  • It allows retailers to retain the cost of reusable bags sold to customers(Note: large chain retailers are currently selling reusable bags for as little as .25 cents). Retailers spend over $3.9M on bags annually.)Countless studies, beginning with Ireland in 2002, have shown that adding a modest fee for bags reduces the use of single-use bags by more than 90%.
  • It gives 12 months from passage to become compliant allowing time for education/outreach and for retailers to use existing stock.
  • It provides an exemption for retailers who may have a hardship determined by the Director of the Office of Sustainability.

The Ordinance is the product of numerous meetings with the City’s Zero Waste Group and the City’s Office of Sustainability.

The ordinance was co-sponsored by Providence Council President David Salvatore (Ward 14), Majority Leader John Igliozzi (Ward 7), Senior Deputy Majority Leader Terrence Hassett (Ward 12) and Councilors Seth Yurdin (Ward 1), Luis Aponte (Ward 10), Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Carmen Castillo (Ward 9), Bryan Principe (Ward 13), Michael Correia (Ward 6) and Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3).

The ordinance has been sent to the Ordinance Committee.

Ryan presented some facts from Upstream Policy:

  • Single-use plastic bags are used on average for 12 minutes and live for about 1K years.
  • Single-use plastic bag production produces over 2.5K metric tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide) annually and contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
  • Single-use plastic bags end up in the ocean, breaking down into smaller pieces called microplastics, Clean Water Action found that the Providence River had the highest concentration of these microplastics in the Bay.
  • It’s estimated that over 95M plastic bags are used annually in Providence.
  • Single-use plastic bags account for roughly 60 tons of garbage.
  • Single-use plastic bags are NOT recyclable in our single stream RIRRC’s recycling facility.
  • Single-use plastic bags are the cause of contamination of our recycling bins and compromise our recycling program.

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.

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