BURRILLVILLE – Proponents say it’s a small inconvenience that makes a big difference for the environment.
Several people spoke before the Burrillville Town Council this week in support of creating a ban on plastic bags and straws, urging the board to be a leader on the issue in the northern half of the state.
“It would best serve our businesses and the citizens of our town to act now and be ahead of the game, rather than search for solutions down the line,” said Ashley Ciummo, who had requested to put the topic on the agenda for the council’s meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 8.
Ciummo pointed out that a statewide ban has already been considered twice by the Rhode Island Senate, and that the environmentally harmful – and highly common – plastic items are considered illegal in some communities.
“It’s only a matter of time before the law is going to be in place,” she said.
Her appeal was supported by many in attendance at the meeting this week.
“At first it seems like a big inconvenience,” said resident David Landry. “When you don’t experience it, you think it’s a big to-do. From that fear base, we could all just think that and say, ‘it’s not hurting me.’ That’s that small-minded thinking that puts us in the situation that we’re in with our environment and the climate right now.”
Courtney Leja said the move would be good for Burrillville, despite being known as a primarily conservative town.
“I hate that environmental concerns are often viewed as a partisan issue, because us trying to clean up the environment and make this a more beautiful place to live, a more sustainable place to live, is literally only helping every single person that lives on the earth,” Leja said. “I say we start replacing anything we can.”
Generally, councilors seemed open to the idea of taking some type of action, if not a full ban on the plastics.
Describing himself as the, “resident tree hugger,” Councilor Stephen Rawson said he’s brought the issue to the board in the past.
“I’m very encouraged by the fact that these young people come forward and bring this up,” said Rawson. “It should have been done a long time ago.”
Councilor Raymond Trinque said that while he, “hates straws,” he’s against the type of enforcement shown in a resolution passed in Barrington.
“We don’t need to go that route,” Trinque said. “We are the leader in recycling in the state. That came about through education. I would rather see us encourage residents to be responsible.”
Of a ban, Trinque added, “That’s not going to make people do it. That’s going to make people hide their straw from the straw police I don’t see sending the Burrillville police to a local restaurant to see if there’s a violation of the straw ordinance. I think we can get something going without all that enforcement.”
Supporters of a ban this week pointed to the enormity of the issue, noting that bags, created with fossil fuels, take hundreds of years to break down. Ciummo noted out that if only a quarter of Burrillville’s population used one bag or one straw each a day, the town would still use 4,000 of each daily, or nearly 1.5 million a year.
“They end up in our lakes and rivers,” Ciummo said, noting that there are 46,000 pieces of plastic float in every square mile of the world’s oceans. “Imagine that amount of plastic in Spring Lake or Wilson’s Reservoir.”
“I myself can frequently be found cleaning up in my neighborhood,” she said. “However, cleaning up is a superficial solution to a much deeper problem.”
Landry said he believes the average person would feel put out once or twice by the change, and then adapt.
“This place is beautiful. We have land. We have a sense of community. We’ve got to start doing something,” said Landry. “How about Burrillville does something a little different than just following the rest of the state, or wait for the state to mandate it? It’s really such a minuscule thing in our every day life.”
Resident Roberta Lacey, who was appointed to the town’s Conservation Commission this week, said that she works in South County where several communities already have a ban in place.
“I see a major difference from what I see around here,” said Lacey.
Supporter Courtney Dietz added, “The main point is that it’s such a small sacrifice for such a bigger problem.”
Building Official Joe Raymond said that as a father and a grandfather, he’s glad to see the town’s younger residents taking a stand on the issue.
“I’m very, very pleased with what I’m hearing tonight,” Raymond said.
Several board members discussed a less extreme approach than a full ban, with Councilor Dennis Anderson noting that any effort should include input from the town’s business community.
“I think we need to walk before we run,” said Anderson, suggesting that the town start by addressing plastic bags, rather than going after both those and straws all at once.
Councilor Jeremy Bailey said one way to curb the problem could be to show restaurants how more environmentally-friendly practices can also be economical.
On a recent trip to Vermont, Council President Donald Fox said that he visited a store that had no bags at all and had to put his groceries in a suitcase.
“There’s a flip side to banning things,” Fox said. “I just think we need to be aware of that.”
Still, he said, “There’s no doubt that there’s a problem here,” adding, “I don’t care what kind of straw I drink out of.”
Councilors voted unanimously to ask the Ordinance Subcommittee to “discuss the use of plastic,” and “look for potential ways to reduce or eliminate the uses.” The committee is expected to bring a recommendation back to the board for further discussion or vote.