Plastic grocery bags are banned in Barrington for at least two-plus years.
On a split 4-1 vote Monday night, Oct. 1, the Town Council approved an ordinance that bans plastic grocery and takeout bags beginning Jan. 1. The three-month "grace period" allows retail stores to use up their supply of plastic bags.
A "sunset" provision added to the draft ordinance creates an expiration date for the law -- Jan. 31, 2015. The law will have to be revisited again at that time.
Town Council President June Speakman, Vice President Jeff Brenner, and Councilors Kate Weymouth and Cynthia Coyne voted for banning the bags. Councilor Bill DeWitt cast the only nay vote.
The vote also split on political lines: four Democrats in favor and one Republican opposed. The vote also makes Barrington the second community in New England to ban the bags.
Barrington Conservation Commission member Joseph Roberts, who proposed the ban last spring, said: "I was a little disappointed with the sunset provision, although I can understand the logic behind it."
Coyne suggested the sunset provision of the ordinance "to give it time to work" and also to evaluate "its impact on business."
"This is not a vote against it," she said, "but a vote for it."
Coyne said also that she hopes Rhode Island takes action over the two-plus year time period to ban bags statewide.
"I think we will find after two years that it is so clearly beneficial that no one will want to go back," said Roberts.
DeWitt said he voted against the ban because "I don't think we're solving the probem. I think we're just changing the problem at the end of the day."
"What are the tradeoffs?" he said. "These bags will be replaced by other bags. We're attacking only one part of the (environmental) issue."
Weymouth, perhaps the most ardent supporter of the ordinance, said: "Someone needs to get this started. Plastic bags have such a devastating effect on the water and sea life."
She also cited numerous cities in the U.S., including Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco, and a host of smaller cities and towns that have taken the same action. The nearest town that has banned plastic bags is Westport, Conn., making Barrington the second town in New England to adopt a ban.
"Perhaps Barrington can give the state an little nudge," said Speakman. "If we can do it, the state can do it."
Brenner said after the vote that numerous other towns in Rhode Island are considering the same ban. But they wanted somebody to go first. Barrington took that action.
The vote came after a public hearing at which most speakers said they favored banning the bags because of environmental concerns. Speakers who opposed the ban did so because they believe recycling is still a better option and they have concerns about the fines to enforce it.
Dan Shedd of Barrington, who owns a paper-box manufacturing firm in Warren, actually suggested that the Town Council expand the ban.
"It's a wonderful gesture," he said. "But we need to reach beyond a well-meant gesture."
Shedd said the real environmental problem are plastic bottles, which is picks up in his front yard.
"Let's ban bottles in Barrington," he said, trying to incite a recitation of "ban bottles in Barrington" from the 100 or so people in the audience. He failed.
Margaret Kane of Barrington, a candidate for the Town Council in November, asked: "Where's the pending environmental problem with plastic bags?"
Like Shedd, Kane said, the real problem involves bottles -- especially beer cans thrown all over the streets she walks and picks up and stashes in a plastic bag.
"Let's be right rather than first," Kane said.
The ordinance bans plastic bags “to improve the environment in Barrington and the health, safety and welfare of its residents by encouraging the use of reusable checkout bags.” It encourages retailers to offer for sale reusable bags. It does not suggest a price per bag.
The ordinance includes fines of up to $300 per violation and describes how the ordinance would be enforced – either by the police department or an officer of the town manager.
A potential violation would be investigated and followed up with a written notice to the owner or manager of the retail establishment. The notice would either be served to the owner or manager in person or by posting it in a conspicuous place of the store and sending a copy to the owner or manager.
A retail store’s owner or manager would have to respond in writing within 14 days that the violation has ended. A second violation after the 14-day response period and within one year of the response from the retailer would lead to a $150 fine.
A third violation within a year of the second and any subsequent violations would lead to a $300 fine.