R.I. Senate approves ban on plastic bags

RHODE ISLAND IS POISED to ban single-use plastic bags at retailers statewide. A number of municipalities have enacted bag bans already, including Barrington stores such as the Shaw's pictured here. Above, Lucas Flavin bags groceries at Shaw's supermarket in Barrington before the local ban was enacted. The store no longer uses plastic bags. PBN FILE PHOTO/DAVID LEVESQUE

PROVIDENCE – A proposal to ban single-use plastic bags statewide has again cleared the Senate, though House support remains uncertain.

The bag ban legislation sponsored by Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, D-Providence, was passed by the Senate in 34-2 vote on Tuesday. The bill stops retailers from offering single-use or nonrecyclable plastic bags to customers in stores or through deliveries. Instead, they are “encouraged” to offer reusable alternatives such as cloth or paper bags with stitched handles, or cardboard boxes. 

The bill does not call for fees for reusable bags, a provision included in a 2019 version of bag-ban legislation that proved controversial.

Advocates have for years tried and failed to enact a bag ban, which has never made it out of the House. The latest iteration is nearly identical to what Ruggerio sponsored in 2020, which unanimously passed the Senate but was derailed when the pandemic abruptly shut down the legislative session.

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The House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, D-South Kingstown, has been languishing in the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee since its initial hearing nearly two months ago.

More than a dozen local cities and towns have their own plastic bag bans on the books, though the state bill, if passed, would supersede local laws.

Ruggerio’s bill also poses fines for retailers that fail to follow the bag ban, with a $100 charge for an initial violation and up to $300 for three violations in a calendar year, with enforcement and collection in the hands of the municipality.

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