Government

Barrington Revises Bag Ban to Include Thicker Plastic

BARRINGTON, R.I. — Trying to plug a loophole in the town’s plastic-bag ban, the Town Council recently voted, 3-2, to adjust the ordinance to include thicker plastic bags.

By itself, it’s not a big change, but Town Council vice president Kate Weymouth explained during the Feb. 1 meeting that the amendment is part of a larger attempt by companies to skirt the rules in other communities with similar bans.

Weymouth noted that last summer Shaw’s and CVS introduced so-called reusable plastic bags to replace paper ones that they had been offering since the town’s Reusable Checkout Bag Initiative was passed in 2012. The two stores were able to offer the new bags by exceeding the 2.25-millimeter thickness limit.

Weymouth singled out the Germany-based company Ecoloop, saying that the company was subverting the spirit of plastic-bag bans by getting stores to take advantage of what she called the “Ecoloop loophole.”

“These thicker plastic bags are not unique to Barrington. This is happening all over the world,” she said. “They are banking, quite literally, on the time and effort it will take for municipalities, states and countries to drag through the process to amend that legislation.”

Council member Ann Strong opposed the ban, calling it “feel-good legislation at its worst.” She introduced a failed amendment to include a ban on Styrofoam and plastic sandwich bags at schools.

Joseph Roberts, a member of the Conservation Commission, drafted the bag-ban ordinance to safeguard waterfront habitat and make the community cleaner.

“It’s something we need to do and ought to have done the first time,” he said.

Most bans, like the Barrington ordinance, prohibit thin-film, plastic checkout and takeout bags, while allowing exemptions for produce, meat, flower and dry-cleaning bags. The Barrington ban also excludes bags considered biodegradable, compostable and oxo-biodegradable.

Barrington is the only Rhode Island municipality with a bag ban. Seventeen municipalities in Massachusetts have such a ban. Connecticut has one town with a ban. Legislation to enact statewide bag bans has stalled in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

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  1. That is the inherent problem with plastic-only bans like this. The end goal is to curb plastic pollution but the policy solution is flawed. Bans like this encourage consumers to switch from using plastic to paper (or maybe reusable, but not usually). Instead, these policies should be designed to encourage consumers to switch from disposable to reusable.

    Retailers are incentivized to exploit the loopholes because plastic is decidedly cheaper than paper, and thus costs are lower. The real solution, then, is to ban plastic and place a fee on paper bags, ideally in the neighborhood of 10 cents. Stores keep the cost of the bag (say 6-7 cents) and the rest goes to the municipality for program administration. In this model, stores realize lower overhead costs and consumers are incentivized to use reusable bags.

    Note that the revenue raised should be in a dedicated fund ONLY be used for program administration, and possibly to purchase and distribute reusable bags to low-income residents. In an ideal world, the program would raise zero revenue because it would mean that 100% of consumers had switched to reusable bags.

  2. These bans are scams and don’t work. People end up buying prepackaged plastic to replace what the thin and thicker plastic does in the home. It is great for waste bins, dog pooh, cat litter and wet weather. Plastic is recyclable, reusable and sanitary. Why don’t we just have people pick up litter, recycle and enforce litter laws. That is proven to work.

  3. The "Ocean Sate" should be taking steps to protect the oceans from this scourge, and I’m disappointed that locally-based companies such as CVS that get huge tax breaks seek to subvert environmental protection.
    The plastic bags cannot be recycled at the facility at the landfill and an insignificant % of them are recycled by taking them back to the stores and finding some bin. If the stores really wanted to encourage recycling they would charge a deposit refunded upon recycling, so their "support" for recycling is just a way to actually do nothing.

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