R.I.’s Plastic Bag Ban Took Effect Jan. 1
January 8, 2024
As of Jan. 1, Rhode Island no longer allows single-use plastic bags to be used in retail stores. Customers must now either bring their own reusable bags or buy paper bags at the store.
In some municipalities, this will be nothing new. Eighteen of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns have plastic bag bans.
Those who violate the law will be fined $100 for the first violation, $200 for the second, and $500 for the third and any subsequent violations. Municipalities will be allowed to keep all penalties they collect, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management will oversee enforcement.
According to the secretary of state’s website, “Any retail sales establishment that fails to meet the requirements of these regulations will be subject to administrative penalties … All penalties listed may be assessed on a per-day basis counted from the initial day of noncompliance until compliance is achieved.”
Dave McLaughlin, DEM’s sustainability coordinator, said if someone sees a violation of the law, they should report it to municipal officials first.
“If an individual makes a determination that this law is being violated, they can report it to the local municipal government,” he said, although exactly who to report it to remains unclear. “An explicit designation of whom to report to in each municipality is not defined (39 municipalities have varying organization structures and may elect to delegate this task as they wish),” McLaughlin wrote in a recent email to ecoRI News. DEM has a FAQ section on the new law here.
The law gives municipalities leeway in how they enforce it. Once they have investigated a compliant, “Municipalities … may issue oral and written warnings, notices of violation, and engage in any other enforcement of this section as they deem appropriate. After taking action, a municipality may refer any alleged violations of this section to the [DEM] for further enforcement,” according to the law.
McLaughlin said once a violation is reported to DEM, the agency “may investigate these referrals.”
Retail establishments — defined by the law as retail stores, flea markets, restaurants, and other food-service establishments — that have received notice of a violation may appeal. Farmers markets, bazaars, festivals, and yard and tag sales are not considered retail sales establishments, according to the law.
A “reusable bag,” according to the law, is a bag with stitched handles designed for 125 or more reuses, and is made primarily of washable cloth, other durable woven or nonwoven fabric, polyester, polypropylene, or other durable plastic.
Some types of bags are excluded from the ban, including the bags used to hold vegetables, pastry, bread, or meat in supermarkets, newspaper delivery bags, laundry or dry cleaning bags, and store-bought garbage bags, among others. A full list can be found here.
“Eliminating the retail distribution of single-use plastic bags helps prevent litter and plastic debris from entering Narragansett Bay and our local waters, which are central to the Ocean State’s environment, way of life, and economy,” DEM director Terry Gray said.
McLaughlin said, “The results so far in the 18 municipalities [that already had plastic bag bans] are that community reporting of violations has been effective at addressing the violations.”
What about the thousands of plastic bags already purchased by retail stores prior to the law’s passage?
Because the law was passed in 2022, McLaughlin said, “That provided ample lead time for retail establishments to adjust their purchasing patterns and use up existing inventory.”
Businesses that have leftover plastic bags, McLaughin said, can donate them to stores or businesses that are exempt from the bag ban.