WESTERLY — The Town Council will soon be looking for residents and business owners to serve on a committee that will work to establish an ordinance regulating the use of single use plastic items such as bags, straws and balloons.
On Monday the council voted unanimously to ask Town Attorney Dylan Conley to draft language for a resolution that would establish the ad hoc committee. Based on the initial discussions, the committee would consist of six residents, three representatives of the business community and a student representative.
Three students — Sarah Berger, Aly Travis and Helen Gross— members of Teens Against Pollution, urged the council to establish an ordinance. The three girls took turns reading prepared remarks at the podium in Council Chambers at Town Hall asking the council to follow the lead of local communities such as Block Island and Newport, which have already adopted single use plastic regulations.
Jeanne Donato, who runs Joy O Loons, a Westerly-based balloon business, urged the council to study the issue closely. While Mylar balloons pose a threat to the environment, Donato said latex balloons are safe. A poorly constructed ordinance could spell the end of some businesses, she said.
While he said officials should work to have an ordinance in place in time for the summer of 2019, Councilor Jack Carson also stressed the need for careful deliberation. Holding up bags from McQuade’s Market, Carson said representatives of the store told him that plastic bags cost the store just a third of a cent per bag while paper bags cost the store 18 cents per bag.
“Their input has to be considered,” Carson said of small, independent stores such as McQuade’s.
Single-use plastic should be regulated by every coastal community in the country, said Councilor Philip Overton, a retired master diver. “This is a world-wide problem. Plastic is trashing the ocean...the problem with plastic is it doesn’t go away,” Overton said.
Ideally, Overton said, plastic bags would be prohibited at stores in Misquamicut and Watch Hill but he also acknowledged the potential cost of such a policy to business owners. “That’s the biggest concern so we’ve got to be conscious of that and make sure all of the businesses are on the same playing field,” Overton said.
Overton and other councilors described news accounts of large piles of garbage that have created virtual islands in the sea. “That is unbelievable when you think about the desecration of our planet. We can do our part and we will,” said Council President Edward Morrone.
Councilor Jean Gagnier noted that young people such as Teens Against Pollution and Misquamicut Waste Warriors, a group of young volunteers who united this summer to clean up the state beach have started a movement in the town.
He also noted that some downtown and shore line businesses have switched away from the use of plastic on their own. Some people, Gagnier said, are willing to pay a little extra if they know plastic is not being used. “They say ‘I want to give my business to the business that cares about the environment,” Gagnier said.
Adrianna Turano, the Town Council’s student representative, volunteered to serve as the committee’s youth representative.