It remains to be seen whether Barrington will adopt a ban on plastic bags though the same cannot be said for one of the town’s largest retailers.
At a Barrington Town Council workshop Wednesday night, Aug. 22, Shaw’s Supermarket spokesman Steve Sylven said a decision had been made to remove all plastic bags from the chain’s County Road location.
Mr. Sylven said that while Shaw’s and parent company Supervalu believe initiatives such as a plastic bag ban should be taken up at a state level, environmental stewardship is important to the organization. The local Shaw’s, for example, recently became one of the company’s first Rhode Island stores to be recognized as a “zero waste facility,” meaning that at least 90 percent of its waste is diverted from landfills.
Mr. Sylven said Shaw’s has been paying attention to the issue and local sentiment among customers seems to be in favor of the ban. He said plastic bags should be gone from the local store in about 90 to 120 days.
Additionally, Mr. Sylven said this move won’t mean higher prices on reusable bags. While he couldn’t quote exact numbers, Mr. Sylven said he expects reusable shopping bags will likely be offered at a discounted price.
The unexpected announcement was one of several remarks brought before the town council during the workshop; some of the speakers favored the ban while others opposed it.
Proponents of the ban included the town’s conservation commission, which put forth the proposal, along with Environment Rhode Island, the Surfrider Foundation and Clean Ocean Access, among others. Arguments supporting the proposal included a relatively low recycling rate for plastic bags and the danger these items can present to marine life.
A number of speakers advocating for the ban also addressed Barrington’s ability to become a leader on the issue in hopes of spurring similar practices in other communities.
Opponents of the ban included the American Progressive Bag Alliance. That group’s executive director, David Asselin, made the trip from Washington, D.C. to speak on the issue. He said plastic bags are not toxic, are 100 percent recyclable and in some cases, reusable shopping bags imported from other countries have been found to contain materials such as lead. Mr. Asselin said plastic bags account for less than .5 percent of all litter nationally.
Town councilor William DeWitt expressed concern that such a proposal could have a negative economic impact, sending local customers out of town for the same items they now purchase in Barrington.
“What I’ve heard loud and clear from a lot of people is they’re going to vote with their feet,” said Mr. DeWitt.
He also said people like plastic bags for their utility, and alternative products, such as reusable bags, present their own environmental hazards.
Town councilor Kate Weymouth countered that she has lived in town for 50 years and the suggestion that people will by-pass the convenience of shopping locally to battle Route 6 traffic “doesn’t make much sense.”
The only other town in New England to currently operate under a plastic bag ban is Westport, Conn. Jeff Wieser is a representative town meeting member in that community and said since the proposal was adopted in Sept. 2008, he hasn’t heard any negatives from residents or businesses.
“The comments I get are really comments of pride, of being leaders,” Mr. Wieser said.
Mr. DeWitt said the choice to use or not use plastic bags is one that should be made by people, not a legislative body.
“We have to take responsibility for our own actions and not wait for the government to come in and correct us. That’s my problem with this,” Mr. DeWitt said.
In the end, no decisions were made on the matter.
In July, the town council voted 3-2 in favor of directing the town solicitor to draft an ordinance that would ban plastic bags from retail establishments in town. This ordinance is expected to be introduced in September followed by a public hearing in October.