“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare tossed out questioning a name’s significance, but when you’re from Rhode Island, “The Ocean State,” the answer is a great deal! Our ocean and Narragansett waters provide recreation, livelihoods and memories, not to mention home to our non-human marine residents that combine to make it incumbent upon all Rhodies to ensure our waters are in the best possible condition. In the recent session of the General Assembly, a bill was introduced to make Rhode Island the first state to ban plastic bags. Disposable plastic grocery bags are among the most common type of trash that ends up in our waters, our streets, our forests and parks, or our own backyards. And because plastic never biodegrades, some of the most significant environmental damage is done when plastic bags end up in our waterways, like the Pawcatuck River, Narragansett Bay and the ocean beyond. Environment Rhode Island (which can be visited at environmentrhodeisland.org) successfully helped Barrington to become the first Rhode Island municipality to ban the bag. The time is right, the time is now, as they move beyond Barrington to help Rhode Island become a national leader on this issue by instituting a statewide plastic bag ban. Turtles, whales and other marine animals that pass through Rhode island waters often mistake plastic bags for food, which can cause them to starve or choke to death as well as get entangled in bags and drown or die of suffocation. If we ban plastic checkout bags, we can eliminate one of Rhode Island’s most common and unnecessary sources of litter and trash. I urge Sen. Dennis Algiere to commit now to supporting the plastic bag ban in the coming General Assembly session.
Ironic that Environmental Rhode Island asked me to write about this issue, and I do so with two plastic bags in my back pocket. People, plastic bags are so unnecessary, can so easily be replaced and banning plastic bags is good for almost everyone, China (the source of most of our plastic bags) not included even if China enacted its own plastic bag ban in 2008 seeing plastic bag usage drop by more than 50 percent! Because they do not biodegrade, plastic bags can remain in our waters for hundreds of years. Nothing that can so easily be replaced, yet is often used for only five minutes, should pollute Narragansett Bay for hundreds of years, spoiling its waters with trash and endangering the wildlife we treasure and depend on. This is a great opportunity for Rhode Island to be a national leader on this issue that’s gaining traction. With a statewide bill headed to the legislature in the next session, now is the time for a number of us to speak out, enabling us to build on the momentum to ban the bag statewide. We might be the smallest state, but how awesome to have the biggest impact on an environmental justice issue where everyone wins!