Greater City Providence

Single-use plastic bag ban approved in Providence

The author removing a single-use plastic bag from a tree in his yard

The Providence City Council passed a ban on single-use plastic bags last night. The ordinance will take effect in 1-year to give retailers and consumers time to prepare and adapt. Information below from the Providence City Council:

Councilwoman Ryan’s Ordinance to Reduce Single-Use Plastic Bags Passes Final Vote

Tonight, City Council Majority Whip Jo-Ann Ryan’s (Ward 5) ordinance that calls for a reduction of single-use plastic bags and encourages the use of reusable checkout bags at retail establishments throughout the City has passed its second and final vote. This ordinance addresses significant environmental and economic concerns facing the City and is modeled after those successfully passed in other municipalities and is most similar to the one recently passed in Boston.

Ryan, the lead sponsor of the ordinance said, “I’m excited to begin the education and outreach component of the ordinance. We’ll be partnering with the City’s Zero Waste Group and the City’s Office of Sustainability to educate residents on the impacts that plastic single-use bags have on our environment, and how the ordinance will be implemented over the course of the next year.  During this next phase before the ordinance goes into effect we’ll work to ensure that all residents are prepared, and those that need reusable bags will have the opportunity to get them at little or no cost.”

The production, use, and disposal of single-use plastic 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 single-use plastic bags will help to curb litter on our streets and waterways, protect the marine environment, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ryan also stated, “The economic reasons are also significant as the City will save at least $1 Million each year by removing this common contaminant to our recycling system. This initiative will also help to remove 95 million single-use bags annually from our landfill.”

Highlights of the Ordinance Include:

  • 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 allows retailers to retain the cost of reusable bags sold to customers (Note: large chain retailers are currently selling reusable bags for as little as .25 cents). Retailers spend over $3.9M on bags annually.)
  • Countless studies, beginning with Ireland in 2002, have shown that adding a modest fee for bags reduces the use of single-use bags by more than 90%.
  • It gives 12 months from passage 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.

The Ordinance is the product of numerous meetings with the City’s Zero Waste Group and the City’s Office of Sustainability. This energetic group is working on an implementation plan and is committed to a strong grassroots education and outreach campaign for both consumers and retailers.

Ryan was joined by the following councilors who cosponsored the ordinance; Council President David A. Salvatore, Majority Leader John J. Igliozzi, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Terrance Hassett, Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr., Deputy Majority Leader Wilbur Jennings Jr., Councilman Seth Yurdin, Councilman Luis A. Aponte, Councilman Bryan Principe, Councilman Michael Correia and Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune.

Some facts on the environmental impacts of single-use plastic bags provided by Upstream Policy:

  • Single-use plastic bags are used on average for 12 minutes and live for about 1K years.
  • Single-use plastic bag production produces over 2.5K metric tons of CO2 (carbon dioxide) annually and contributes to the greenhouse effect and global warming.
  • Single-use plastic bags end up in the ocean, breaking down into smaller pieces called microplastics, Clean Water Action found that the Providence River had the highest concentration of these microplastics in the Bay.
  • It’s estimated that over 95M plastic bags are used annually in Providence.
  • Single-use plastic bags account for roughly 60 tons of garbage.
  • Single-use plastic bags are NOT recyclable in our single stream RIRRC’s recycling facility.
  • Single-use plastic bags are the cause of contamination of our recycling bins and compromise our recycling program.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.

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