standing Westerly Town Hall

WESTERLY — The Town Council decided by consensus Monday to have the town attorney review a proposed ordinance that would prohibit retail stores from providing or selling single-use plastic bags and to provide a recommended version of the ordinance for the council's next workshop meeting.

The council also decided to extend the Joint Committee on Plastics Utilization and Commerce's work period to the end of the year. The committee was originally organized as a 90-day ad hoc committee and was set to expire yesterday. The committee will now be asked to assist with a community education campaign and to help with implementing the ordinance.

The council's decisions followed a presentation by Theresa A. Cavalier, the committee's chairwoman, and Michael J. Raimondo, the committee's vice chairman, with the committee's other members sitting nearby in Council Chambers at Town Hall.

The council decided to hold off on considering three other ordinances proposed by the committee that would have banned the sale, use or distribution of any type of balloon, prohibited businesses from providing single-use plastic straws unless requested by a customer, and prohibited food establishments from providing foam containers for food and retail  establishments from selling foam food-service ware.

"We feel that this topic is not a Republican, Democrat, progressive or conservative topic. It is a moral and ethical topic of responsibility and accountability. The coming together to do the right thing for the community will have a positive ripple effect on the overall care and health of the residents," Cavalier said.

The ordinances are seen as a way to improve the environment by reducing the volume of plastic in the waste stream and plastic items that end up on the side of the road, in trees, or in the ocean or other waterways.

The presentation included a brief review of the results of a survey conducted by the committee. Of the more than 530 respondents who took the survey, 80 to 90 percent indicated a willingness to adopt legislation to regulate the availability of single-use plastics.

Council President Christopher Duhamel suggested starting with an ordinance addressing single-use plastic bags.

"Low hanging fruit if you will. The bags have some momentum more so than styrofoam and straws. I think you'll find people are more accepting of utilizing reusable bags and getting rid of single-use plastic bags, and that will be easier to implement," Duhamel said.

Dave McLaughlin, executive director of Clean Ocean Access, said the Middletown-based organization has observed a reduction in the amount of plastic bags found on beaches in the Newport area since towns in the area implemented bans.

Generally, McLaughlin said, Rhode Island towns with plastics ordinances have focused on compliance through the issuance of notices of violation rather than using their power to issue fines. While substituting paper bags for plastic ones does bring an additional cost for store owners, McLaughlin said store owners have passed that cost along to customers, whom he said tend to quickly start using their own reusable bags.

The proposed ordinance, once reviewed by the town attorney and the Town Council, would be subject to a public hearing before formal consideration by the council.

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