2017-05-04 / Around Town

Middletown Bans Plastic Bags

By Olga Enger

Beginning this fall, plastic bags will no longer be offered for carry-out purchases in Newport and Middletown stores.

Middletown Town Council unanimously approved a ban on single-use plastic bags at the May 1 Town Council meeting. Newport adopted a similar ordinance in March.

To provide businesses time to prepare, both communities will not enforce the policy until Nov. 1, 2017.

"This is certainly the future," said Council President Robert Sylvia.

Exemptions for plastic bags include laundry and dry cleaning, garbage and yard waste, newspapers, prescription drugs and plastic barriers for bulk items or to wrap flowers. The ordinance was initially drafted to allow restaurants to use plastic bags for take-out meals, but that exemption was removed at the second reading to align with Newport's ordinance.

One difference between the communities is a hardship variance that was written into Middletown's version of the law.

"What would be a hardship variance? Who would make that decision?" asked Councilor Dennis Turano. Town Solicitor Peter Regan did not provide an example, but explained it would be reserved for unique circumstances on a case-by-case basis. The variance would be approved by Town Administrator Shawn Brown.

Sylvia asked if there would be objections to removing the hardship clause.

"That's not practical," said Brown, intimating that council should leave the ordinance as drafted.

Although Portsmouth has kept an eye on the new ordinances, councilors have not yet committed to a similar policy for an islandwide ban. However, if they do, Naval Station Newport may voluntarily comply.

"In the event every community on the island were to ban plastic bags, then both our commissary and Navy exchange would bring this to the attention of their respective headquarters and seek a way to comply as well, in keeping with our community relations efforts," said Navy Spokeswoman Lisa Rama.

Many residents, including students, spoke in favor of the ordinance during the two public readings. There was only one voice against the idea.

"If it's on the ground, just have someone pick it up," said resident Ken Cordeiro. He argued the council was taking away the "free will to run their stores."

Enforcement will be carried out by the Middletown Police Department or any other town department designated by the town administrator. First-time violators will be issued a warning letter. After 14 days of receiving a warning, businesses may be fined $150 for a second offense. Violators will be fined $300 for a subsequent offense. In Newport, violators may be fined up to $1,000.

Return to top