The Town Council took a first step Monday night -- on a split vote -- to ban plastic grocery bags in Barrington.
The councilors voted 3-2 to ask the town solicitor to draft an ordinance that would ban the use of the plastic bags.
The draft ordinance is expected to be ready for a public hearing at the Town Council’s next meeting on Sept. 10.
Councilors June Speakman, Jeff Brenner and Kate Weymouth voted in favor of the motion made by Weymouth to draft the ordinance. Councilors Bill DeWitt and Cynthia Coyne voted against the motion because they favor more discussion before drafting an ordinance.
“Eliminating trash is good,” said DeWitt, “but there may be other alternatives.”
“I like the idea,” said Coyne, “but I would like to broaden it.”
Indeed, the Town Council voted unanimously to set up a workshop in August to hash out some details of a potential ban while also looking at other possible alternatives.
The proposal to ban the grocery bags came from Conservation Commission member Joseph Roberts, a political science professor at Roger Williams University. He made a presentation that was very similar to a “white paper” he drafted as the proposal.
Roberts said his proposal “for all practical purposes would eliminate the use of the plastic grocery bags in Barrington.”
He also said a second part of his proposal would impose fees for the sale of paper bags by businesses to their customers to offset the additional cost for switching from plastic to paper bags.
Roberts said the use of plastic bags is an “environmental scourge” that recycling does not address. He repeated the statistic in his white paper that 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.
“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.
The proposed bag ban got support from two environmental groups that sent representatives to the meeting: Environment Rhode Island and the Surfrider Foundation.
The former organization presented a petition to the Town Council last Friday with 340 signatures in favor of ban and a letter from 14 businesses in Barrington that support the ban, including Center ACE Hardware.
Channing Jones, a representative for Environment Rhode Island, said: “Barrington can lead the way in Rhode Island. The town can distinguish itself.”
Another organization opposing the ban, the American Progressive Bag Alliance, a trade group for plastic bag manufacturers, also sent a representative.
“Recycling is a better solution,” he said. “Plastic bags make up only a fraction of the waste stream.”
Weymouth made her motion because she said: “Recycling is not working.”
She also said that five out of every six emails or calls she has received on the grocery-bag ban favors doing away with plastic bags.
Weymouth and Speakman also said that they have received more calls and emails on the proposed ban than any issue in the past couple of years, with most of them favoring the ban.