The Barrington Town Council approved a plastic bag ban on Oct. 1, and while many people came out in support of the proposal, there were a number of others who voiced questions and concerns.
Town councilor William DeWitt was the sole vote against adopting the ban, which is officially known as the Reusable Checkout Bag Initiative.
Mr. DeWitt questioned several aspects of the proposal including whether the ordinance will result in new issues, such as an increase in the use of paper bags, and the environmental impact of producing and re-washing reusable bags.
Mr. DeWitt said the ordinance results in a situation where the same plastic bag can be judged in two different ways depending on its location inside a retail establishment.
The ordinance defines checkout bags, which are banned, as any carryout bag that is provided to the customer at the point on sale. Plastic barrier bags, however, are allowed. These bags are usually used for carrying fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, fresh or frozen foods, meat and fish.
“At the end of the day, I don’t know if we’re solving the problem or just changing the problem,” Mr. DeWitt said.
Resident and town council candidate Margaret Kane said she didn’t see the need to rush in adopting an ordinance. She questioned whether there was an impending environmental crisis about to hit Barrington, whether the ordinance was a “real solution” and whether there were alternatives to a ban.
“This to me is a broader issue,” Ms. Kane said.
Rumstick Road resident Dan Shedd, meanwhile, proposed the town council ban plastic bottles.
Mr. Shedd said he frequently finds littered bottles but has never picked up a plastic bag. Mr. Shedd said he isn’t one for “gestural politics” before attempting to begin a chant — “Ban bottles in Barrington.”
New Meadow Road resident Ed McKinlay, who is also a member of the parks and recreation commission, said the ordinance is going to be a “nightmare” to enforce, while Laura McNamara, executive director of the East Providence Area Chamber of Commerce, said business owners should be able to make decisions on their own.
At a workshop on the plastic bag issue in August, Shaw’s announced that its County Road location was going to cease offering plastic bags. It was a move referenced repeatedly during last Monday’s public hearing.
Another question was raised by Michael Vanin, CEO of GXT Green, based in Billerica, Mass. Mr. Vanin said his company produces a photodegradeable bag that is broken down by sunlight in 240 days or less. Mr. Vanin wanted to know if the ordinance would prevent his type of product from being distributed in town.
For all of the questions and concerns raised over the proposal, there was no shortage of people who threw their support behind the plastic shopping bag ban, which begins Jan. 1, 2013.
Resident Saundra Patrick said she is a stewardess for a piece of conservation land in town and frequently comes across discarded plastic bags in the woods, on the side of the road, along the bike path and on the shore. Ms. Patrick said the issue was a chance for Barrington to become a leader in the state.
“This is not a partisan issue,” she said. “It’s just a good sound thing to do.”
Ms. Patrick also presented a reusable bag bearing the Almacs logo to demonstrate how long such a product can be re-used.
Alison Townsend, of Alfred Drown Road, said she walks a lot at the beach and Osamequin and sees plenty of littered plastic along the way.
“I think if we pass this initiative we will just simply reduce that and will encourage people to have less trash and less plastic that’s flying all around the place,” she said.
Environment Rhode Island has been in support of the initiative for months. The environmental advocacy group previously presented the town with petitions shaped as reusable bags.
“In Barrington, public support for the bag ban has been clear,” said Channing Jones, an ERI program associate, in a press release Tuesday morning. “Banning plastic bags is a common sense policy to protect the bay and the marine environment. We look forward to seeing other Rhode Island municipalities follow Barrington’s lead.”
Sydney Montstream-Quas, of Annawamscutt Road, said her daughter recently took part in a beach clean-up alongside a group of fifth-graders where she dug up 20 plastic bags buried in the sand.
Town councilor Kate Weymouth motioned for the ordinance’s adoption after reading from a prepared statement. She referenced numerous countries and cities that have adopted plastic bag bans, such as Italy and San Francisco. Ms. Weymouth also spoke to images she found online of large plastic debris piles floating in the ocean and a dead bird with pieces of plastic in its stomach.
Barrington is now the first Rhode Island community to adopt such a ban. In New England, a similar ordinance exists in Westport, Conn.
“There is nothing standing in our way from taking a lead in something that would make our community proud just as it did in Westport, Connecticut,” Ms. Weymouth said.
Town councilor Cynthia Coyne also had a prepared statement. She said a plastic bag ban is something that should be considered at a state level. Ms. Coyne motioned that the ordinance include a sunset provision that automatically ceases the ban in two years unless a future town council decides to leave the regulation as is.
Ms. Coyne said the sunset clause would give the town time to assess the ordinance’s impact while special interest groups can pursue a statewide initiative.