Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza vetoed the plastic bag ban bill on Monday responding to concerns from the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee (REJC). The Committee sent a letter to Elorza and members of the Providence City Council on March 14 citing specific concerns with the policy after their evaluation noting, “This policy assumes that everyone has equal access to reusable bags. That is not the case for low income families who do not drive a car. Many community members will struggle to pay the fee.”

Echoing concerns articulated by the REJC, Mayor Elorza requested that more community engagement be done before he signs the ordinance into law. Elorza continued, “There is no harm done in taking our time to do this right, but we do risk harm if we exclude or ignore these communities and their concerns in this process.”

The ordinance amended Chapter 12, “Health and Sanitation,” of the Code of Ordinances of the City of Providence to Establish Section 20, “Reduction of Single-Use Checkout Bags by Retail Establishments.” This ordinance would reduce single-use plastic bags in the City of Providence and after a year period, require that “any store that provides any type of checkout bag shall sell them for no less than ten cents per bag.”

In a statement released today, Aaron Jaehnig, chapter chair of the Rhode Island Chapter of Sierra Club, offered support for Mayor Elorza’s decision to veto the measure:

The Rhode Island Chapter of Sierra Club is in full support of the City’s efforts to reduce waste, pollution and the impacts of climate change with a single-use plastic bag ban. However, we also recognize the importance of having the most impacted communities thoroughly engaged in the process and given a real opportunity to voice their concerns and potential solutions.  While everyone agrees the bag ban is a huge step in the right direction, the Mayor’s veto will allow progress to occur without skipping a step. It is a bold move to ensure the crafting of city policy prioritizes equity, inclusion and justice. The world is plagued with deep ecological and economic crises and the solution to one type of problem should not create one of the other kind, both disproportionately impacting working class communities of color. The Racial and Environmental Justice Committee is specifically tasked with ensuring the voices of black, indigenous, people of color are at the center of sustainability conversations and we fully back the Mayor’s decision to support them and their request for further engagement with the community.

While citing concerns about the current ordinance, Mayor Elorza reinforced his commitment to creating a policy that works for all residents. “I am confident that with more time for public discourse and these voices centered in that process, we can come up with a plastic bag policy that eliminates this environmental hazard from our community, while not burdening our low-income residents. By being deliberate and intentional about who is at the table, we can create an effective policy that makes our communities stronger, rather than divide us. Once that is done, I look forward to signing this into law.”

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Barry Schiller

talk about having it both ways, the Sierra Club (and Mayor) are “in full support” of reducing plastic waste pollution, but actually oppose the measure to take action to do so. I note in both cases there seem to be no suggestions or amendments as to just what measure, if any, they would support.
If the Sierra Club won’t stand up for the environment, no wonder progress is so difficult.
As for low income customers, note they already see a 10 cent bag charge in places like Aldi’s and I believe at Price Rite too, stores that serve lower income communities. By not giving out multiple “free” bags the way places like Stop and Shop do, they can keep their prices down, a strategy that actually benefits low income people.