To the editor:
On Oct. 1, Barrington has the chance to demonstrate environmental stewardship in Rhode Island by being the first municipality in the state to ban disposable plastic shopping bags.
Our waterways have always been an integral part of our town. Unfortunately, plastic debris is a growing problem facing ecosystems here and around the world. When plastic enters the marine environment it threatens wildlife that confuse plastic fragments for food, and possibly chokes them to death. Also, plastic never biodegrades, but just breaks apart into more and more tiny pieces, accumulating in the ocean and absorbing toxic pollutants.
In Rhode Island and elsewhere, plastic bags are a leading source of marine debris. Rhode Island uses over 200 million disposable plastic shopping bags every year, and too many of them are littering our rivers, parks and roadsides — and because they are so light, they easily make their way into the bay and other waterways.
Many communities around the United States have adopted a simple and effective policy to eliminate this source of plastic litter: to just “ban the bag.” That is, to prohibit the distribution of disposable plastic shopping bags at retail establishments.
Ineffective alternatives have been proposed (by the plastics industry, among others) to address the plastic bag problem, such as voluntary approaches like encouraging plastic bag recycling. Unfortunately, plastic bag recycling programs have just not worked, and recycling rates nationwide are around 10 percent. California tried to reduce bag litter by requiring grocery stores to place recycling bins in front of their stores, but this has only increased plastic bag recycling by 2 percent in three years. So now municipalities up and down California have taken action on their own to just ban plastic bags.
The plastics industry and others also argue that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly than paper bags. While it’s true that paper bags do require more energy to produce than plastic bags, bag production overall — whether it’s paper or plastic — is simply a negligible part of our energy footprint. Yet plastic bags are a primary source of marine debris accumulating in our oceans. The clear environmental choice is to ban plastic bags — especially with reusable bags so cheap and readily available.
On Oct. 1, the town council is expected to vote on an ordinance that would ban plastic bags in the town. Barrington has the chance to remove these plastic bags from the waste stream. And with our leadership, this initiative can catch on in other communities in Rhode Island and across New England.
I urge the town council to make Barrington an environmental leader and by voting to ban plastic bags on Oct. 1.
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