Providence -- On Tuesday, a bill to ban plastic checkout bags statewide was introduced in the Rhode Island House of Representatives. The bill prohibits the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags at the point of sale by Rhode Island retailers, effective January 2014 for large retailers and January 2015 for small businesses.
"The bill's introduction is an important first step to protect Narragansett Bay from a major source of plastic pollution," said Channing Jones, Program Associate with Environment Rhode Island. "Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute Narragansett Bay for future generations."
Plastic debris is a growing problem facing marine ecosystems worldwide. When plastic trash enters the marine environment, it poses a direct threat to wildlife that can ingest or become entangled in it. While plastic never biodegrades, it does break apart into increasingly small fragments, accumulating in the marine environment and picking up toxic substances in the water. Filter feeders such as clams are particularly vulnerable to these tiny plastic bits.
In Rhode Island, plastic bags are a leading debris type found in coastal cleanups. According to Rep. Maria Cimini, the bill's lead sponsor in the House of Representatives, "Rhode Island uses hundreds of millions of plastic bags every year, and too many of them are littering our neighborhoods, parks, and roadsides -- and because they are so light, they easily make their way into Narragansett Bay and other bodies of water."
Dozens of communities around the United States, including Barrington, R.I. in October, as well as major cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, have taken action to stop the flow of this source of plastic litter by simply banning the distribution of plastic bags at retail establishments. If the General Assembly passes the plastic bag ban, Rhode Island's would be the first state-level bag ban legislation.
"We applaud Rep. Cimini for her leadership to protect the Bay and local waterways from plastic bag pollution," added Jones. "In Rhode Island, public support for a bag ban has been clear." To date, Environment Rhode Island has collected thousands of petition signatures around the state in support of banning plastic bags, as well as endorsements from dozens of small businesses. Earlier in the month, the Environment Council of Rhode Island, the state's largest coalition of environmental groups, signed a statement in support of banning plastic bags.
"Banning plastic bags is a simple, effective way to eliminate [plastic bag] pollution," added Rep. Cimini. "As the Ocean State, Rhode Island should be a leader on this issue."