The 2023 Rhode Island legislative session has started! Clean Water Action and our allies had some big environmental wins in 2022, and we’ve spent the “off-season” preparing to hit the ground running in 2023. Here are our legislative priorities for this year:
Fighting Plastic Waste with a “Bottle Bill”
Plastic beverage bottles are littering our neighborhoods, clogging storm drains, polluting our waterways, and piling up in the landfill. Unfortunately, curbside recycling is not effectively capturing this waste stream, and many of those containers that do make it onto a recycling truck end up in the trash or “downcycled” (made into a lower quality product).
Luckily, 10 states, including our neighbors in Massachusetts and Connecticut, are currently modeling a solution: a container deposit law, or “bottle bill.” When done right, a strong bottle bill will increase recycling rates, reduce litter, fight plastic pollution in our waterways, and incentivize the beverage industry to implement a more sustainable model with bottles and containers that are easier to recycle or even reuse. One of our top priorities in 2023 will be working with our allies in the General Assembly to pass a bottle bill for Rhode Island.
Comprehensive PFAS Ban
In 2023, Clean Water Action will continue fighting to protect our waterways, and our bodies, from toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances). PFAS are a class of human-made chemicals that are incredibly persistent in the environment and also highly toxic. They have been linked to cancers, birth defects, and other health problems. Thanks to the efforts of our members and allies, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed two bills to protect Rhode Islanders from PFAS in the 2022 session including a ban on the use of PFAS in food packaging.
Now, the next step is a comprehensive ban on toxic PFAS in 2023 that expands the list of products that must be free of intentionally-added PFAS in order to be sold in Rhode Island. Consumers should be able to know that the products they bring into their homes do NOT contain dangerous toxic additives. You can help! Send a message to your state legislators thanking them for the steps they have taken to reduce our exposure to PFAS so far, and ask them to support a comprehensive ban. Sign a letter to your legislators now!
Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) legislation
Last session, although there were some constructive committee hearings about a potential EPR bill for Rhode Island, the legislation didn’t get very far. But both in Rhode Island and nationally, folks are becoming more aware of the problem of waste disposal and the fact that most plastics aren’t really being recycled. The answer? We need to reduce the amount of packaging that is manufactured and consumed, design packaging for reuse, and make sure that what is left is recyclable. Extended Producer Responsibility legislation can get us there by requiring real reductions in packaging and real increases in recyclability for products sold in Rhode Island. As a small state, our options for waste disposal once the landfill fills up are limited. Let’s get ahead of the problem by reducing waste now. Sign a letter to your legislators telling them to support EPR in 2023!
Environmental Justice legislation
Not every Rhode Island community experiences the same level of health threatening pollution. Some communities have a much higher concentration of polluting facilities in their neighborhoods, and, as a result of environmental racism, those overburdened communities are more often than not predominantly BIPOC. Rhode Island needs an Environmental Justice Act that would define environmental justice areas in state law, give RI regulators the ability to take the cumulative impacts of polluting facilities into consideration when making permitting decisions, and give the public more of a voice in deciding which facilities are built in their communities.
How Does a RI General Assembly session work?
Democracy works best when we all participate! The Rhode Island General Assembly’s 2023 session begins on January 3rd, and the session usually concludes around the end of June, so it’s a bit of a sprint to get things passed. Bills are introduced, discussed and voted on in relevant committees, and (if they make it through that gauntlet) can then be scheduled for a full vote in the Senate and the House. We encourage our members to follow along! Calendars and agendas for committee hearings and floor sessions can be found on the General Assembly’s website and you can use their “Bill Tracker” feature (at the bottom of the website) to track the specific bills in which you’re most interested. We will also send out updates and action alerts throughout the session to keep our members in the loop.
It’s going to be an exciting session! Our field canvassers will be out this winter building grassroots support for our priority bills, so if you see them in your neighborhood, please support our campaigns, take a moment to write to your elected officials, and definitely offer them a hot cocoa. Happy New Year, and cheers to a productive 2023 legislative session!