Councilwoman Ryan Reintroduces Ordinance to Reduce Single-Use Plastic Bags at Tonight’s City Council Meeting

Jun 21, 2018 | 0 comments

The Ordinance has been referred to committee where it will

be vetted and open for public comment

Tonight, Council Majority Whip Jo-Ann Ryan reintroduced her ordinance to reduce single-use plastic bags in Providence, and it has been referred to committee for review.  After meeting with Mayor Elorza, constituents, and community groups, she felt that the time was right to bring the ordinance back before the Council.

Changes to this ordinance include the removal of the $0.10 fee for not having a reusable bag, it requires the City’s Office of Sustainability to present an implementation plan to the City Council no later than 30-days after passage, and calls upon the City to work with the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Center as part of their outreach and implementation plan.  This ordinance still addresses significant environmental and economic concerns facing the City and is modeled after those successfully passed in other municipalities and is most similar to the one recently passed in Boston.

Ryan, the lead sponsor of the ordinance, said, “After the Mayor’s veto I embarked on a listening tour, and I heard the concerns of the community and worked to ensure that all voices were heard in the creation of this updated ordinance.  This is the beginning of us collectively working together to rid our city, landfills, and oceans of single-use plastics, and I am proud to be leading that effort.  I will continue my work with my colleagues, the Mayor’s administration, and community partners to move this forward and will ensure robust community engagement and public discourse. We will hold a public hearing at an upcoming committee meeting to ensure that all voices have an opportunity to share their concerns, questions, and suggestions on how we can make this ordinance work for the people of Providence.”

The ordinance calls for a 1-year implementation period where the City’s Office off Sustainability will work to educate residents and business owners on the single-use plastic bag reduction plan. This plan will be presented to the Council no later than 30-days after the passage of this ordinance. During this 1-year implementation period, we will work with community partners to distribute free or little-to-no cost reusable bags to those that need them.  This period also allows businesses to use their remaining stock of single-use plastic bags.

The production, use, and disposal of single-use plastic bags have significant adverse impacts on the environment and are a serious economic burden to the City’s solid waste disposal and single-stream recycling systems.  Reducing single-use plastic bags will help to curb litter on our streets and waterways, protect the marine environment, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ryan continued, “The economic reasons are also significant as the City will save at least $1 million each year by removing this common contaminant to our recycling system. This initiative will also help to remove 95 million single-use bags annually from our landfill. I recently visited the Rhode Island Resource Recovery recycling center and saw the toll that plastic single-use bags play on their system. Every few hours they have to shut down to pull these bags from the gears that move the recycling along. This slows the process, and is dangerous as employees have to climb into the machine and remove the bags from the gears.”

Highlights of the Ordinance Include:

  • No additional fee for non-compliance by consumers.
  • All checkout bags must be designed for multiple reuse or be paper. If the checkout bag is plastic, it must be made from 100% recycled plastic. Paper bags must be 100% recyclable and made from at least 40% recycled paper.
  • It exempts certain types of plastic bags such as dry cleaning or laundry bags, bags used to wrap or contain frozen foods or prevent or contain moisture, etc.
  • It gives 12 months from passage for businesses to become compliant allowing time for education/outreach and for retailers to use existing stock.
  • It provides an exemption for retailers who may have a hardship determined by the Director of the Office of Sustainability.

The Ordinance is the product of numerous meetings, over ten months, with the City’s Zero Waste Group the City’s Office of Sustainability, and other stakeholders.

Some facts on the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags provided by Upstream Policy:

  • Single-use plastic bags are used on average for 12 minutes and live for about 1K years.
  • Single-use plastic bag production produces over 2.5K metric tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide) annually and contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
  • Single-use plastic bags end up in the ocean, breaking down into smaller pieces called microplastics, Clean Water Action found that the Providence River had the highest concentration of these microplastics in the Bay.
  • It’s estimated that over 95M plastic bags are used annually in Providence.
  • Single-use plastic bags account for roughly 60 tons of garbage.
  • Single-use plastic bags are NOT recyclable in our single stream RIRRC’s recycling facility.
  • Single-use plastic bags are the cause of contamination of our recycling bins and compromise our recycling program.


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