The Town Council meets in a public workshop on Wednesday, Aug. 22, to further discuss details and possible alternatives to a potential ban of plastic grocery bags in Barrington.
The councilors voted 3-2 at their July 30 meeting to ask the solicitor to draft an ordinance that would ban the plastic bags. But they also agreed to hold an August workshop on the proposal (see previous Patch story).
The Wednesday workshop starts at 7 pm in the Council Chamber in Town Hall.
Conservation Commission member Joseph Roberts, a political science professor at Roger Williams University, made the proposal with the support of that board.
“For all practical purposes,” Roberts said of the potential ban, “it would eliminate the use of the plastic grocery bags in Barrington” and make it the second New England town to ban their use.
Roberts’ proposal also would impose a fee for the sale of paper reusable bags by businesses to their customers to offset any additional cost for switching from plastic to paper bags. The proposal asks for a 5 cents per bag fee although Roberts believes 10 cents might be more feasible.
The use of plastic bags is an “environmental scourge” that recycling does not address, Roberts said. He said the recycling rate of 11 percent nationally has risen only about 2 percent in five years.
“Reusing the bags is helpful,” said Roberts, but it doesn’t solve all the problems of the bags, including the impact on wildlife on land and in the seas and the taking up of valuable space in landfills.
“Taking plastic bags out of the waste stream would also benefit the town’s bottom line,” Roberts said, because Barrington would send far less waste to the landfill.
Two environmental groups -- Environment Rhode Island and the Surfrider Foundation – support the ban.
The former organization presented a petition to the Town Council in mid-July with 340 signatures in favor of ban and a letter from 14 businesses in Barrington that support the ban, including Center ACE Hardware and Hollies on the Avenue.
Holly Smith, the owner of Hollies on the Avenue, told Patch that she switched to paper bags a few years ago.
"I cannot imagine that this would be a problem for small businesses," she said in an Associated Press story in the Huffington Post.
Smith said paper bags are cheaper and they look better, and predicted the ban could prove to be a boon if local businesses created reusable bags featuring their logo, according to the Huffington Post story.
Channing Jones, a representative for Environment Rhode Island, said: “Barrington can lead the way in Rhode Island. The town can distinguish itself.”
The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a trade group for plastic bag manufacturers, opposes any ban of plastic bags. The trade group says in the Huffington Post story that “outlawing the bags could threaten more than 30,000 plastic bag manufacturing jobs in the U.S.”
The plastic bag has gotten a bad rap, said Donna Dempsey, spokeswoman for the alliance. She claims that 9 out of 10 consumers reuse plastic bags, and they require less energy to make than paper bags, and the bags take up less space in landfills.
"Bans are not the way to deal with this," she said. "It singles out an American-made product that is 100 percent recyclable. Recycling is the better way to address plastic bag litter."
San Francisco was the first U.S. city to ban plastic shopping bags back in 2007, according to the story in the Huffington Post. Westport, Conn. is the only New England community with such a ban right now.