Banning plastic bags discussed

At Planning Board
Sat, 03/18/2017 - 1:30pm

The Block Island Planning Board is supporting a move that may ban the use of plastic bags on the island, but such a move would not take place until 2018 at the earliest. Despite supporting the idea, members cautioned they still needed to work with the business community to make sure there was some agreement with that decision. 

The question of banning the bags was posed to the Board by Block Island School student Moira O’Neill, who had started a petition to limit the use of plastic bags and was looking for the Board’s support. 

Planning Board member Sven Risom asked members of the Board whether they wanted to restrict the use of just bags, or include plastic water bottles and Styrofoam as well.

Board reaction was mixed. “I’d like to take on one thing and be successful, and that’s probably plastic bags,” said Board Chair Margie Comings. Member Socha Cohen felt that Styrofoam should be tackled first. Member Sam Bird said he had been through the process of eliminating plastic bottles in other communities, which was met with “huge forces to bear” against it. “We were fought every step of the way,” he said.

Bird said all of the proposed materials that could be banned “are an environmental insult, but not an insult in the same way. My instinct says go for broke — go for it all.”

Cohen said she “didn’t think it’s a good idea to start with all three, but I’m willing to fight the battle.” 

Member John Spier said he felt “plastic bags were at the top,” and suggested that someone could market reusable bags decorated with the work of Block Island artists. “They’ll be collector’s items,” he said. But if the Board wanted to attack all three items, “I’m willing to do the work,” he said. 

Risom said there have been a spate of Rhode Island towns that had banned or were seeking to ban the use of plastic bags.

O’Neill told the Board her focus was on plastic bags. A petition that she began boasted 175 signatures on the hard copy version and 1,230 signatures on the online version.

When asked if the signatories were Block Island residents, O’Neill said it was a mix. “Some voters on the island, some the state of Rhode Island, and many of the youth on Block Island, and my friends.”

Comings asked O’Neill if she had heard from store owners. “If we don’t have their support, it won’t work,” said Comings. Plastic bags are one of the most ubiquitous methods of carrying purchased goods from retail outlets.

O’Neill said she specifically was seeking to start the ban after the upcoming summer season “out of respect for the store owners” who had not yet had a chance to weigh in on the matter.

The Board voted unanimously to draft language to be presented to the Town Council saying it would support the ban of plastic bags only, but such a ban could not begin until 2018 at the earliest.

“We need to have the store owners on board,” said Comings. “I’d rather have them work with us rather than against us.”