PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island lawmakers have approved a long-fought bill to ban plastic bags at retail checkout lines.
The legislation, which passed on Tuesday night, was introduced by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, a North Providence Democrat, and Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, a Democrat from South Kingstown.
The legislation, which will now head to Governor Daniel J. McKee’s desk for his signature, requires retail establishments to offer recyclable bag options such as paper bags, or reusable bags that were brought in by the customer. Those who do not comply will be fined.
“We all know how dangerous plastic pollution is to the health of our oceans and marine life, and how it contributes to climate change,” said Ruggerio.
Approximately 17 municipalities have already enacted similar policies to reduce plastic use, including Newport, Providence, and Cranston. Barrington was the first town to adopt the ban a decade ago.
“I think it’s appropriate to be consistent throughout the state,” Ruggerio said.
Businesses that do not comply with the proposed ban will be fined $100 for the first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third and any subsequent offenses. The legislation said those penalties will reset each year.
The ban will take effect Jan. 1, 2024, or within one year of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management establishing the regulation — whichever comes first.
“I am the representative from two coastal communities and we have seen first-hand the damage that plastic bags do to our oceans and environment for many years now,” said McEntee. “In Rhode Island, we throw away approximately 26,000 tons of plastic bags and plastic film every year. When you think about how little plastic bags weigh, this is a staggering amount of waste that needs to be eliminated in our state.”
Alexa Gagosz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.