Sent to the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources for consideration, the legislation, 2015-H 5151, requires large retail store (with annual gross retail sales of $5 million or more) to terminate the use of plastic bags by January 1, 2016. All retail stores would be required to end the use of the plastic bags by January 1, 2017.
“Rhode Island faces a real threat from plastic pollution,” said Representative Amore, citing single-use plastic checkout bags as a primary source of pollution to Narragansett Bay, hundred of miles of coastline and other bodies of water, and littering neighborhoods, parks and roadsides. “These disposable bags pose a direct threat to wildlife and to aquatic and coastal environments and the most effective way to preserve our environment and clean up this growing mess is to eliminate this major source of pollution.”
If enacted, Rhode Island would join other states and individual cities that have enacted or are considering bans on plastic bags or aggressive recycling programs. In 2014, California became the first state to enact a law prohibiting large stores from providing single-use plastic carryout bags, although a repeal referendum effort is underway to block it. New York retailers are required to establish in-store recycling programs, and North Carolina has acted to reduce plastic and non-recycled paper bag use on the Outer Banks.
If enacted, stores in all communities in Rhode Island would be like those in Barrington, where a town ordinance banning plastic bags went into effect in 2013. Many other cities across the country, particularly coastal communities, have similar bans. Every county in Hawaii, for instance, has individually banned plastic bags.
“As the Ocean State, we thrive on the beauty and bounty of our waters and coastlines, for the seafood and maritime industries as well as tourism,” said Representative Amore. “We cannot ignore the fact that plastic bags are a major source of pollution and, unless addressed, will continue to harm our most important natural resources.”
Certain types of bags would be exempt from the ban, under the Amore legislation, such as sleeves used by dry cleaners, or those used by florist to protect fresh flowers, as well as “barrier” bags used to package produce and meats.
Enforcement of the ban would be the responsibility of city or town police departments, who would investigate potential violations and issue written notice to the retailer, which would be required to confirm, within 14 days, that the violation has ceased. A second violation would be punishable with a fine of $150; a third violation would carry a penalty of $300.
Eliminating the one-time use plastic bags will not only benefit the environment, keep the state’s coast and waters cleaner and reduce potential harm to fish and other wildlife, said Representative Amore, it will also relieve pressure on the landfill and waste management. “It is believed that literally millions of these bags are used every year in our state and many of them end up where they shouldn’t be. It’s time to stop causing harm and time to stop using these bags.”
The Amore bill, the “Plastic Waste Reduction Act,” is co-sponsored by Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Rep. Katherine S. Kazarian (D-Dist. 63, East Providence) and Rep. Kathleen A. Fogarty (D-Dist. 35, South Kingstown).
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