Senate President Dominick Ruggerio and Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee have introduced legislation to reduce the use of plastic bags by retail establishments by offering recyclable bag options and providing penalties for violations.

The Plastic Waste Reduction Act (2021-S 00372021-H 5358) would prohibit retail sales establishments from making available any single-use plastic checkout bag, and would require that any paper bags made available be recyclable, with an exception for paper carryout bags at restaurants.

“The dangers plastic pollution poses to oceans and marine wildlife is well-documented, and plastic use overall contributes to the degradation of our environment,” said Senate President Ruggerio (D-Dist. 4, North Providence, Providence) in a statement. “We must take action to reduce plastic consumption and pollution. Support for efforts to promote reusable bags is growing, as is evidenced by the many communities in our state that have already adopted similar policies. A consistent statewide policy would be appropriate and much more effective at addressing this source of pollution.”

Plastics that enter the marine environment break down through wave action and sunlight into smaller pieces called microplastics, which can be ingested by marine life, putting Rhode Island’s fishing industries and aquatic ecosystems at risks. The legislation also acknowledges that plastic bags and thin plastic films are the predominant contaminant of recycling loads in Rhode Island, and that single-use plastic bags have severe environmental impacts on a local and global scale.

“I am the representative from two coastal communities and we have seen firsthand the damage that plastic bags do to our oceans and environment for many years now. In Rhode Island, we throw away approximately 26,000 tons of plastic bags and plastic film every year. When you think about how little plastic bags weigh, this is a staggering amount of waste that needs to be eliminated in our state. Plastics litter our parks, clog our rivers and oceans, and choke our wildlife. These particles end up in our soil, in our drinking water, in the food we eat and in the air we breathe. Now is the time to end this environmental and public health destruction and finally pass a statewide ban on plastic bags,” said Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) in a statement.

The legislation is supported by environmental advocates, including the Conservation Law Foundation.

“It’s time to ban plastic bags in Rhode Island once and for all,” said Amy Moses, Vice President and Rhode Island Director of the Conservation Law Foundation. “Plastics pollute at every stage of their lives — from extracting and refining fossil fuels to contaminating our recycling and choking wildlife. This bill is a solid compromise and it will keep Rhode Island’s lands and waters free from this toxic litter.”

The legislation is cosponsored in the Senate by Senators V. Susan Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, South Kingstown, New Shoreham), Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown), Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence), Sen. Meghan Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence) and Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-Dist. 29, Warwick), and has been referred to the Environment and Agriculture Committee.

House cosponsors include Representatives Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown), David A. Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston), Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren), Lauren H. Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport), House Majority Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Dist. 2, Providence), June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), Robert D. Phillips (D-Dist. 51, Woonsocket, Cumberland), Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) and Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown). The bill has been referred to the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

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