2016-09-29 / Around Town

Bag Ban 101: ‘No Two Bag Bans Are Alike’

By Betsy Sherman Walker

Even before they’ve been officially banned, the bags are back.

In the past 50 years, plastic bag production worldwide has increased 20-fold. By 2050, there will be as many plastic particles floating in the ocean as there are fish. Every year, humans use – and dispose of – between 500 billion and one trillion (with a T) plastic bags.

Jamie Rhodes, program director at the Maine-based UPSTREAM Policy Institute, presented these alarming facts at the first of two public forums on Monday, Sept. 26, organized by the Newport Energy & Environment Commission and the Newport Planning Board. The groups picked up where the issue was left in May when the City Council passed a resolution directing the city administration to craft an ordinance to ban disposable plastic bags by January 2017.

About 30 people gathered to hear Rhodes and others discuss the next steps needed to bring the effort to the next level: making the ordinance Planning Board-ready for its Nov. 7 meeting, and by extension, a slam-dunk to present to the council at its first meeting in 2017.

Much of Rhodes’ presentation was on how to build a successful case. “Figure out what Newport needs to do,” he advised. Ask – and answer – all the questions, from types of bans (straight plastic or hybrid?) to how and whom you charge (fees, fines, or taxes? Paper or plastic?). Education and outreach – specifically, getting local retailers on the same page – are also key components of a successful presentation.

“No two bag bans are alike,” Rhodes told the room.

Dave McLaughlin, executive di rector of Newport’s Clean Ocean Access, added his vision for the ordinance. When the measure is passed in Newport, he hopes that Middletown and Portsmouth will follow suit. COE’s goal, he said, is that by Earth Day 2017 (Saturday, April 22) the ban would be islandwide. He also read a letter from Barrington councilor Kate Weymouth, one of the leaders in that town’s 2013 successful effort to stop retailers from using single-use plastic bags. Calling the claim by plastic bag makers that retailers would lose customers “a myth perpetuated by the industry,” she wrote, “I urge you to join Barrington and take the next step in the journey as stewards of our environment.”

The May 25 resolution was sponsored by Councilors John Florez, Lynn Ceglie, and Naomi Neville. Councilor Marco Camacho, who cast the lone dissenting vote, was not convinced that paper bags would be better for the environment. At Monday’s meeting, still debating the paper or plastic conundrum, Camacho said he would like to see a fee for both.

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