Northern RI – On January 1, 2024, Rhode Island’s new regulation banning single use plastic bags goes into effect. Apparently, some businesses and owners are still in the dark regarding the change.
The law, entitled “The Plastic Waste Reduction Act,” authored by Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, bans retail establishments from providing single-use plastic bags to customers at the point of sale. The Rhode Island General Assembly passed the legislation in 2022, and Gov. Dan McKee signed it into law. The law was previously put on hold due to the pandemic.
“We all know how dangerous plastic pollution is to the health of our oceans and marine life, and how it contributes to climate change,” said Ruggerio, a Democrat representing District 4 in North Providence and Providence, in a press release. “Several Rhode Island jurisdictions have already enacted similar policies to promote and encourage the use of recyclable bags, and I think it’s appropriate to be consistent throughout the state.”
The law includes penalties of $100 for the first offense, $200 for the second offense and $500 for the third offense. The fines would be collected and retained by the communities in which the offenses took place.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management concluded that plastic bags contribute to pollution, litter, and wreak havoc on recycling efforts.
Surprisingly, not everyone even knows about the new law. When asked about the law, several local store managers admitted they weren’t even aware of it, including the Family Dollar Store manager in Chepachet, who wished to remain anonymous. She said she guessed they would be using paper bags, but admitted no knowledge of the new law.
Glocester CVS Manager Bill Chatty also said he was unaware of the new regulation, but was awaiting CVS corporate’s instructions on how to handle it.
“Starting January 1, we will provide our Rhode Island customers paper bags,” Courtney E. Tavener, Senior Manager of Corporate Communications of CVS told NRI NOW. “Today, we comply with more than 400 different policies across several states that have enacted statewide policies like this.”
The CVS store in Chepachet offers containers for used plastic bags at the entrance to the store. Chatty noted that they have been very successful in collecting used plastic bags in a concerted effort to avoid litter and pollution.
“We probably fill 60 of those containers in two weeks,” he said. “You wouldn’t believe how fast they fill up.”
Steve Kopeski, owner of Dino’s Supermarket, which has been a mainstay in the town since 1957 when it opened, was already gearing up for the change. He said his store will provide options for shoppers, including offering paper bags at a reduced cost, offering reusable bags for sale and encouraging shoppers to simply bring their own bags. Customers, he said, have increasingly used their own bags over the years, avoiding both plastic and paper.
“We’ve got to try to increase the use of reusable bags,” said Kopeski.
Part of the problem, he explained, is the rising cost of paper bags, mostly due to Amazon. Amazon’s increase of paper and cardboard packaging has fueled the rise of paper bags, in particular. Bags used to cost five cents for 10 bags, said Kopeski. Now that cost has risen to 23 cents per bag. He said Dino’s will sell the paper bags at a reduced cost to customers purchasing them.
“There’s nothing we can do to stop the rising cost of paper,” he added.
The prohibition of plastic bags includes those used to bag loose produce, as well, such as peppers, apples, garlic, onions and other vegetables and fruits.
“Under the legislation, retail sales establishments would be prohibited from making available any single-use plastic checkout bag or any paper checkout bag that is not a recyclable paper bag or a paper carryout bag at restaurants,” according to the state regulations.
Most likely, said Kopeski, smaller paper bags will be used for produce items. Produce items which already arrive bagged will not be affected.
Eighteen of 39 communities in Rhode Island have already banned plastic bags with similar legislation. In their analysis, RIDEM concluded: “Single-use plastic bags have severe environmental impacts on a local and global scale, including pollution of our waters, harm to marine life and wildlife, greenhouse gas emissions, blocking storm drains, and creating litter.”
Maine, Vermont and Connecticut already have statewide bans on plastic bags, with a number of towns and cities in Massachusetts banning them also, including Boston.
Republican Sen. Jessica de la Cruz, the minority whip who represents Burrillville, Glocester and North Smithfield, voted against the bill. She explained that some research showed that the ban on plastic bags was not helping the environment as much as people thought.
The thinner bags were often reused for other purposes, among other things. Dog owners used them, for example, to pick up dog poop. The thin bags also used less plastic than the reusable plastic bags, which were suggested as replacements. Further, the study showed that reused bags, whether plastic or other material were seldom, if ever, washed, resulting in germs being carried forward.
“Reusable plastic bags are more harmful to the environment than any of those replacements,” she added.
According to some research, replacing plastic bags with paper ones will result in increasing deforestation. The construction of paper bags also requires more energy and water than plastic bags.
“I am not anti-environment,” said de la Cruz. “If the research had been there to show the positive impact, we all would have voted for it. It really does matter.”