Majority Leader Ryan’s Plastic Bag Reduction Act Has First Passage

Tonight the Providence City Council passed the Retail Plastic Bag Reduction Act for the first time. The bill, as required by the City Charter, needs a second passage before it can become law.

The ordinance will reduce the number of plastic checkout bags distributed by retailers. It is the result of a two-year legislative initiative lead by Council Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) to address this significant environmental and economic issue facing the City.

Ryan said, “Today is a big first-step in making Providence a cleaner and greener city for all to enjoy. I am proud of my council colleagues for supporting this legislation.  It sends a message that we are good stewards of our environment and that we are committed to preserving and protecting our natural resources.”

Ryan, the lead sponsor of the ordinance, has visited every corner of the city: toured the RI Resource Recovery facility; met with various environmental groups including Clean Water Action, the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee, Zero Waste Providence; and engaged area business leaders, community stakeholders and colleagues in government. She also testified before the RI Senate in support of similar state legislation.

The ordinance requires that the City present a comprehensive implementation plan within 60 days of passage, along with quarterly progress reports from the City‘s Director of the Office of Sustainability, and will involve a host of community partners to help with education, outreach and implementation.

The legislation calls upon the City to work with its partners such as the Providence School Department, Providence Community Library, Providence Libraries, community organizations, business stakeholders, its waste hauler, vendors and the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation among others as part of a comprehensive education, outreach and implementation plan.

It becomes effective six-month after final passage. During this time, the City’s Office of Sustainability will work to educate residents and business owners on the plastic checkout bag reduction plan. This period will also allow businesses to use their remaining stock of plastic checkout bags.

Ryan continued, “The production, use, and disposal of plastic checkout 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 plastic checkout bags will help to curb litter on our streets and waterways, protect the marine environment, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The economic reasons are also significant. The data clearly shows that the City will save at least $1 million each year by removing this common contaminant to our recycling system. This initiative will remove, on an annual basis, an estimated 95 million plastic checkout bags from the landfill.”

Highlights of the ordinance:

  • 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 six-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. And provides a warning prior to any fine for non-compliant retailers.

Some facts on the environmental impacts of plastic checkout bags:

  • Plastic checkout bags are used for a very short time but live for about one thousand years.
  • Plastic checkout bag production produces over 2.5 thousand metric tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide) annually and contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
  • Plastic checkout bags end up in the ocean, breaking down into smaller pieces called microplastics, Clean Water Action found a high concentration of these microplastics in the Bay.  Microplastic particles from plastic bags pose threats to human health and to the local economy by exposing our food sources to synthetic materials and toxins.
  • It is estimated that over 95 million plastic checkout bags are used annually in Providence.
  • Plastic checkout bags account for roughly 60 tons of garbage.
  • Plastic checkout bags are NOT recyclable in our single stream RIRRC’s recycling facility.
  • Plastic checkout bags are the cause of contamination of our recycling bins and compromise our recycling program.
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