Senate Committee Advances Statewide Bag Ban
February 13, 2020
PROVIDENCE — The Senate is fast-tracking a statewide bag ban.
On Feb. 12, the Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture unanimously approved sending S2003 to the Senate floor for a vote. Two amendments were made to the bill: one allows retailers to offer cardboard boxes in place of single-use plastic bags; and the other broadened the ban to include grocery delivery companies such as Peapod.
The bill is a priority for Sen. President Dominick Ruggerio, D-North Providence, the lead sponsor of the bill. It doesn’t include a mandatory fee on paper bags and preempts cities and towns from enacting stricter provisions. Currently, 17 Rhode Island municipalities have adopted bag bans.
Bag ban advocates don’t support the uniformity clause but are happy that a requirement for stitched handles was included in the original version of the bill. No date has been set for when the Senate will vote on the bill.
On Feb. 6, the House Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources held its first hearing on a statewide bag ban. The bill (H7306) doesn’t include the preemption rule but it does mandate a 5-cent fee on paper bags.
The Rhode Island Retail Federation, the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, and the Rhode Island Hospitality Association oppose the House bill over the lack of the preemption clause.
An “ask-first straw law” (H7163) and ban on polystyrene foam food containers (H7164) were also heard at last week’s House hearing. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) supports the straw law and backs the concept of a ban on foam containers. Save The Bay backs both bills. During testimony, Save The Bay noted that more foam containers, plastic bags, and straws are being collected during coastal cleanups.
“If there is one state that should be taking the lead in the fight against plastic pollution, it should most certainly be the Ocean State,” said Jed Thorpe, advocacy coordinator for Save The Bay.
He noted that bans on plastic waste are more effective than recycling because they reduce the volume of items that enter the waste-recovery stream.
Chemical engineer Michael Bradlee noted that his industry initially resisted bans on these harmful products but eventually adapted and benefited from restrictions.
Two Brown University medical school students described the health effects of styrene and other toxins in foam cups and food containers. Styrene, they said, lasts at least 500 years in the environment. They noted that many patients they visit use foam containers to microwave food.
“One hundred percent of breast milk samples contain styrene,” medical student Sarah Hsu said.
The American Chemistry Council spoke against the ban on foam containers.
The Senate Committee on the Environment and Agriculture also heard a bill (S2195) that adds cigarette butts to the state’s definition of litter. The other items on the list: ashes, cigarettes, cans, bottles, wire, paper, cartons, boxes, automobile parts, furniture, glass, and “anything else of an unsightly or unsanitary nature.”
Bill S2194 places a 5-cent-per-barrel fee on petroleum products entering maritime ports. The Ocean State Climate Adaptation and Resilience (OSCAR) fund would raise about $2 million annually to supply municipal grants for projects that address the climate crisis.
Topher Hamblett, Save The Bay’s director of advocacy, said the money would help communities receive matching federal grants to pay for reducing coastal erosion and building stormwater infrastructure for inland communities.
“The thought here is that our use of petroleum does contribute to climate-change impacts significantly and it seems to make sense to put a very modest fee on a barrel of oil to help us fund the real needs that cities and towns face going forward,” Hamblett said.
The bill was crafted by Save The Bay and is supported by DEM, Clean Water Action, The Nature Conservancy, the Warren Town Council, and the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.
The Energy Marketers Association of Rhode Island opposes the fee, claiming it will increase costs for businesses and consumers.
The Senate bill was held for further study.
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