NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A bill that could potentially ban single-use plastic bags statewide is heading to the floor of the state Senate today for a vote.
There are currently 13 cities and towns in Rhode Island that have already passed ordinances to ban single-use plastic bags, including North Kingstown. The town’s ordinance went into effect five months ago on Jan. 1, 2019.
Meg Kerr, the director of policy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island and a North Kingstown resident, said her observations around town have led her to believe that people are beginning to change their behavior.
“I have noticed a huge difference,” Kerr said. “I was just shopping over the weekend, and of the six people that walked into the store at the same time as me, five had reusable bags with them.”
Amy Sonder, a resident of North Kingstown and member of the town’s Conservation Commission, said she’s also noticed more and more people using their reusable bags while out shopping. She said she personally stopped using plastic bags last January and admitted it did take some adjustment.
“It took me a couple of months and now it’s just second nature,” she said.
Councilor Kerry McKay was part of the previous Town Council that passed the ordinance and acknowledged that some of the earliest advocates for the ban were students. In 2017, seventh-graders from Davisville Middle School gave a presentation on the issue to the town council that was followed a year later by presentations from members of the Conservation Commission and Clean Ocean Access.
“When you look at some of the stuff that ends up in the bay, you have to start somewhere,” McKay said.
The local ordinance permitted hardship variances and allowed for businesses to take time adjusting to the new ban. The only business that requested a hardship variance was Dave’s Marketplace because they needed time to alter their turnstiles and train their staff in order to be in compliance.
According to Dave’s Marketplace Marketing and Communications Director Susan Budlong, the store has completed the “implementation for use of recyclable and paper bags with our modified turnstiles” before their July 1 deadline.
McKay said he was grateful to the businesses in the town that were willing to abide by the ordinance, and reiterated his idea for local businesses to use their reusable bags as a means of advertising.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for all the people who sell these bags to sell them with their advertising on them,” Kerry said.
Though businesses are falling in line, five months may not be long enough to tell how much impact eliminating single-use plastic bags has had locally.
“I think it’s actually too soon for us to see anything environmentally,” Sonder said.
Sonder said that she was part of a beach clean-up at Calf Pasture Point where they kept track of the trash they collected, including the number of plastic bags. She said the clean-up was very thorough so it would likely be a couple more years before they do another, during which they’ll take another tally to see if there’s been a reduction.
The state Senate bill was amended by the Senate Committee on Environment and Agriculture to more closely resemble some of the local town ordinances that have a “stitched” handle rule. The purpose of such language in the amendment is to close a loophole that would allow for the use of thick plastic bags.
Though North Kingstown’s ordinance doesn’t allow for the thicker plastic bags, Kerr said she has seen them in other towns. She said they are technically reusable, but the point of the ban is to move away from plastic entirely.