Around Town

Newport Says Goodbye to Plastic

Another Rhode Island town gets fed up with single-use plastic shopping bags and the environmental damage they cause

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There is going to be a sea change in your shopping habits, about as surely as the tide rolls in every day. We are talking about the ubiquitous plastic bags currently in use by just about all businesses. Whether in your major supermarket chain or your corner grocery, your mom-and-pop hardware store or the big box retailers, those plastic carryalls may soon become obsolete in Little Rhody.

Videos of flimsy plastic bags “dancing” in swirling gusts of wind are enthralling. But shots of dead sea turtles killed by swallowing bags that they thought were jellyfish are less appealing.

On March 8, the Newport City Council unanimously passed an ordinance banning the use of the most common “single-use” (read: empty them and throw them away) plastic bags used by shops and stores of all types, to begin this November 1. They were the second municipality in the state to do so, following the ambitious pacesetters in Barrington who passed their own plastic bag ban in 2012. Middletown quickly followed Newport’s lead by passing a similar plastic bag ban on May 1, which will also go into effect on November 1. This will have a major impact in the area, as the border between the two communities is blurry and they share a large base of local consumers.

Clean Ocean Access, an Aquidneck Island civic organization that conducts beach and shore cleanups, led the initiative on the bag ban – convinced, perhaps, by the almost 12,000 plastic bags they’ve picked up along the coast since 2013. COA’s executive director Dave McLaughlin says he’s optimistic about expanding the bag ban across the island. “We are trying to use this as a platform to change human behavior on all single-use materials.”

Rhode Island is a proud coastal state, which makes the sight of bags washing up in the surf or clinging to shoreline rocks particularly offensive. Bags have a destructive impact not just on sea turtles, but in our own backyards. And you only need to flip through your TV channels to find evidence of plastic wreaking havoc not only on the visual environment, but on our food chain as well.

Paper bags at least are biodegradable, and will eventually succumb to the elements. Reusable bags are not only convenient for everyday shopping, but now readily – and affordably – available from retailers, many of them businesses at which you already shop.

The tide has turned against single-use plastic bags. And that’s a good thing for the Ocean State.