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We all know that single-use plastic shopping bags are a scourge that litter our neighborhoods, trees,  and waterways. But here in Rhode Island, they cause many more problems than just unsightly litter. They:

  • Contribute to climate change. They are derived from fossil fuels and require a great deal of energy to produce, producing a huge amount of CO2 each year.
  • Pollute the marine environment. Once in the water, they break down into tiny pieces, called microplastics. These microplastics are ingested by marine creatures, killing wildlife and entering into the food chain. At the rate we consume plastic products globally, the oceans will contain more plastic than fish by weight by 2050. Last summer, we sampled Narragansett Bay for microplastics and found them in waters from Newport to Providence.
  • Waste consumer dollars. Retailers build the cost of these products into the price of their goods. Even consumers that bring their own shopping bags are paying the price for single-use bags.
  • Waste taxpayer dollars. Rhode Island Resource Recovery sees nearly 60 tons of plastic bags enter its facility each year. When these bags are in recycling loads, they contaminate them. Instead of being recycled, contaminated loads are then sent directly to the landfill, including all of the good, valuable recyclable materials within. Municipalities then must pay tipping fees and fines on these diverted loads, the cost of which ends up trickling down to taxpayers.

Providence's Disposable Bag Reduction Ordinance

With vocal, organized grassroots support across the city, Councilwoman JoAnn Ryan has introduced an ordinance that would prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags and place a 10-cent fee on other kinds of disposable bags made from paper and thicker plastic. To offset the cost of more expensive bags, retailers are allowed to keep all of the fees they collect. Our trash trawl for microplastics revealed that the waters around Providence had the highest concentration of plastic pollution in the Bay. Additionally, Providence sees the highest recycling diversion rates in the state, costing the city and taxpayers an estimated $1 million each year. This ordinance will go a long way in helping to solve both of these problems while actually helping the city's small businesses.

If passed, Providence would be the sixth municipality in Rhode Island to pass an ordinance addressing plastic pollution from single-use plastic bags.

If you are a Providence resident, please contact your City Council representative and urge them to support the passage of this ordinance!

Statewide Efforts

While the 2018 General Assembly session has only just started, several legislators have already indicated that they want to eliminate single-use plastic bags and all of the economic and environmental problems they create. They would do this by prohibiting the distribution of thin-film single-use plastic bags and placing a small fee on paper and thicker reusable plastic bags. The fee encourages consumers to bring their own reusable bags and has shown to be a successful policy tool in the dozens of places that already have laws like this on the books. Just like the Providence ordinance, small businesses are allowed to keep the fee to offset the increased costs of paper and thicker plastic bags.

Let your State Representative and Senator know that you want them to support statewide legislative efforts to phase out single-use plastic bags once and for all!

If you are an individual or small business that would like to get involved with these efforts, please contact

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