Plastic reduction legislation heard

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 6:45pm

Reducing the use of plastics to preserve the environment has become a priority of the Rhode Island State Senate, with three Democratic senators introducing plastics-related bills in the General Assembly earlier this year. The bills, which include reducing use of plastic bags, plastic straws, and polystyrene containers, were heard before the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee on March 6, and are currently being held for further study.

Block Island has already banned balloons, and the use of plastic bags at points of sale at retail shops and restaurants, and has considered a prohibition on plastic straws. The Block Island Tourism Council has pushed back on banning more plastic products, which has been one of the priorities of the Planning Board.

Sen. Susan Sosnowski (D), a co-sponsor of the three Senate bills, said she “feels there will be movement on one or all of the bills, due to the amount of support and interest in the issue.” Sosnowski said that there was “overwhelming support by the witnesses that testified” before the committee on March 6; although she noted that they were members of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s advisory task force committee. 

Senate President Dominic Ruggerio (D) introduced the Plastic Waste Reduction Act, bill S0410, calling for reduced use of plastic bags by retail shops, and encouraging them to offer recyclable bags.

Sen. Joshua Miller (D) authored bill S0268, prohibiting the use of plastic bags and polystyrene containers by retail establishments. And Sen. Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D) introduced bill S0202, prohibiting food service establishments from providing plastic straws to customers unless they are requested. 

Sosnowski said Ruggerio’s bill “gives businesses the opportunity to get rid of a lot of plastic inventory, and creates a level playing field for businesses across the state.” She said laws enacted in “each of the state’s towns varies, and some are more stringent than others.”

“It’s an educational issue. Plastic products end up in the ocean; they are ending up in Narragansett Bay. I don’t think people understand how much of that is going on. I think the shoreline communities are more cognizant of the issue.”

It’s understandable, said Sosnowski, “people are concerned about survival and not necessarily about environmental issues. And we have to be cognizant of the different needs of people throughout the state. The bills introduced in the senate do that.”

Sosnowski told the story of her mother using recyclable bags long before they were fashionable. “She knew what was happening. She was thrifty,” she said. “We need to go back to that.”

“There is going to be a learning curve” associated with the legislation, if it’s enacted, said Sosnowski. “We need to do the right thing. Rhode island can be a leader on this issue.”

The three pieces of legislation can be tracked here:

In related news, State Rep. Susan Donovan, a Democrat from Bristol, has introduced legislation (H5865) that would prohibit the release of balloons inflated with lighter-than-air gas at sporting events, weddings and vigils.