Moving Toward a Plastic-free Rhode Island

Dale J. Venturini
President/CEO, RI Hospitality Association

Today, many lawmakers are proposing various pieces of legislation aimed at reducing the environmental impact of non-biodegradable, single-use plastics like straws, plastic bags and other packaging materials. Reports estimate that up to 10 million plastic bags are used every minute around the world, and that the average American uses anywhere from 300 to 700 plastic bags in a single year. Plastic bags and other plastic waste not only pollute our environment and harm wildlife, but there is evidence that they also contribute to climate change and can be harmful to our health. Just recently, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo’s special ‘Taskforce to Reduce Plastic’, of which I am the co-chair, developed new legislation, entitled the “Plastic Waste Reduction Act,” which seeks to limit the use and distribution of plastic bags in retail establishments and restaurants throughout the state by offering recyclable bag options.

If passed, the new legislation will ban the use of plastic bags in retail establishments statewide and set a $0.05 fee on paper bags, with the money going back to the retailer. However, restaurants do not have to charge a fee for paper carryout bags. The legislation also exempts bags used to contain unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods, bags provided to transport partially-consumed bottles of wine and laundry bags.

The RI Hospitality Association has expressed its support for the Plastic Waste Reduction Act, and would like to thank the Governor and the sponsors of this legislation for working to address this issue in a thoughtful and sensible manner. We commend the effort to unite stakeholders on both sides of the issue to work toward a compromise that accomplishes the goals set forth in the policy, while also respecting the potential impact it may have on local businesses, specifically in the hospitality industry.

The RI Hospitality Association (RIHA) is pleased to see that this proposal includes a strong uniformity provision that will create one unified plastic bag ban throughout Rhode Island. It is unfeasible to maintain the current regulatory landscape of plastic bag bans in Rhode Island, where several cities and towns have implemented their own versions of the ban. Local businesses have been left to their own devices, working within the confines of a patchwork set of laws, all of which have differing requirements. Unfortunately, many of the local bans that are currently in effect were written without input from the very businesses that they impact, leading to widespread frustration and increased spending.

The Plastic Waste Reduction Act also provides businesses with an appropriate amount of time to prepare for the ban, while delaying the implementation of the legislation until a year after the regulations have been drafted, or until 2021, whichever comes first. This effective date gives ample time for the regulations to be thoughtfully drafted and implemented, allowing businesses adjust, plan and utilize existing inventory that would otherwise need to be thrown away.

We are very happy to see the state move towards a greener and more sustainable future while also taking into account how these changes affect the operations of many local businesses. We are well aware of the potential negative impact caused by plastic bag pollution and are thankful to have a seat on the Governor’s Taskforce and to ensure that our industry’s perspective is taken into consideration, along with those of Rhode Island’s businesses and constituents. As an industry, we are always willing to negotiate in good faith on complicated issues, and hope that we continue to be consulted on such impactful topics as this one.