Bag ban set for first hearing

Fung expresses concerns over potential impact on local businesses

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A proposed ban on single-use plastic bags for retail checkout purposes will go before members of the City Council for consideration next week.

While Mayor Allan Fung has indicated he would not sign the measure were it to reach his desk, the backers of the “Plastic Bag Reduction” ordinance amendment say they have received favorable feedback from members of the community.

“We’re never going to totally get rid of plastic. I think if we take tens of thousands of plastic bags out of our environment, it’s a step in the right direction,” said Republican Ward 5 Councilman Chris Paplauskas, who introduced the measure along with Democratic Ward 3 Councilman John Donegan.

The ordinance amendment, which was introduced as new business at the full council’s Feb. 25 meeting, will go before the Ordinance Committee on March 14. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall’s Council Chambers.

The measure has been co-sponsored by Ward 1 Councilwoman Lammis Vargas and Ward 2 Councilman Paul McAuley, both Democrats.

Paplauskas said he and Donegan had been independently working on bag ban proposals and decided to collaborate once they became aware of one another’s efforts. He said “a lot of the language” used in the proposal is based on an ordinance recently adopted in North Kingstown.

“The production, use, and disposal of plastic carryout bags, which are commonly not recycled, has been shown to have significant detrimental impacts on the environment, including but not limited to contributing to pollution of the terrestrial and coastal environment, clogging storm water drainage systems, and contributing to the injury and death of terrestrial and marine life through ingestion and entanglement,” the proposal reads.

The ordinance amendment would prohibit businesses from providing single-use plastic bags – or “plastic carryout bags,” as they are referred to in the amendment – to customers at the point of a sales transaction, for a fee or otherwise. Reusable bags of recyclable paper bags would be allowed. If adopted, the measure would take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

“Basically, the ordinance is targeting the single-use plastic bags at checkout,” Paplauskas said.

The ordinance defines as “reusable bag” as being “specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse” and “made primarily of cloth or other unwoven textile or durable plastic.” Recyclable paper bags are defined as those that are fully recyclable and made using at least 40 percent recycled material.

Exemptions are provided for “double-opening” plastic bags, such as those used to protect dry cleaned items during transport, and for “plastic barrier” bags, such as those used to transport fruits and vegetables, fresh or frozen meat, baked goods, flowers and plants, hardware items or newspapers.

Under the terms of the ordinance, establishments found to be in violation for the first time would receive a letter and be provided a 28-day window to correct the violation. Establishments could also dispute the violation before the City Council’s Safety Services and Licensing Committee.

A second violation would result in a $250 fine payable within 14 days. Subsequent violations would carry the same fine for each day. Businesses accused of multiple violations would have the same recourse before the Safety Services and Licensing Committee. The committee would also be empowered to call businesses accused of multiple violations to appear for a show cause hearing.

On Friday, Fung said his concerns center on the impact the proposed ban would have on local businesses, particularly those that are small or medium in size. He said he has discussed the issue with members of the city’s business community.

“As it’s proposed, I’m opposed to it,” the mayor said. “While reducing plastics and encouraging are important … I do have major concerns about the outright ban.”

Fung said he would seek to “incentivize the use of reusable bags” rather than institute an outright ban.

Paplauskas said he has found a more favorable response in his discussions with constituents and business owners. Many businesses, he said, have already taken steps to prepare for a ban on single-use plastic bags.

“Everybody I’ve spoken to, they’re very positive, from residents up to business owners,” he said.

He added: “[The proposal] is not really as anti-business as people think.”

Donegan has helped make the case for the bag ban on social media.

“We, the city of Cranston, have the opportunity to be the largest municipality in the state to approve such a measure,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Let’s be a leader, Cranston!”

Donegan has also shared a Change.org petition urging the council to approve the plastic reduction ordinance. As of early Monday afternoon, it had garnered 249 signatures.

Enactment of the ordinance would see Cranston join the growing ranks of Rhode Island cities and towns to take steps aimed at curbing single-use plastic bags, including Barrington, Bristol, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Jamestown, New Shoreham, Tiverton, North Kingstown and South Kingstown. Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza vetoed a proposed plastic bag ban in the capital city last year.

In July 2018, Gov. Gina Raimondo signed an executive order aimed at reducing single-use plastics in Rhode Island. The order included the creation of a task force to study the issue.

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