2017-10-26 / Around Town

Businesses Prepare for Plastic Bag Ban

By Brooke Constance White

It’s time to stock up on reusable grocery bags. If you don't, you may have your hands full.

Starting Nov. 1, businesses in Newport will no longer be allowed to provide plastic bags to customers. Instead, many businesses will now offer bags made from brown paper or reusable plastic that are 4 mils, or at least 4-thousandths of an inch thick, while others are encouraging patrons to purchase and use fabric or woven plastic reusable bags.

In March, the Newport City Council unanimously approved a city ordinance banning businesses from offering single-use plastic bags, whether free or paid. Newport is the second community in the state to ban plastic bags after Barrington, whose ban went into effect in September 2012. Middletown passed a similar ordinance in May.

According to the Newport Re- Uses Committee website, plastic bags, which are only used for 12 minutes on average, remain in the environment forever. Since 2013, Clean Ocean Access, a local nonprofit focused on keeping oceans and beaches clean and improving access, has removed more than 11,000 single-use plastic bags from Rhode Island’s shoreline. For every reusable bag, statistics show that at least 500 single-use bags are eliminated from the environment.

Lynn Ceglie, a city councilor and Newport Re-Uses committee member, said that since the group received a generous donation of 10,000 reusable bags from local environmentalist Lisette Prince, it has been handing them out at farmer’s markets and other large events, at the library, senior center, social services agencies and city hall.

“The community has been extremely receptive and supportive,” Ceglie said. “It’s exciting to see how businesses are being innovative with this and that many have already switched over even though enforcement hasn’t begun.”

Mayor Harry Winthrop said that since the city hosts many sailing events that are based around the idea of sustainability, it would be hypocritical for Newport to not contribute to the cause.

“It’s beneficial to the environment and shows how forward thinking our city is,” he said. “It ties right into everything going on in the city and everything we’re all about.”

While the ban went into effect in March, enforcement will not begin until Nov.1. Retailers will be allowed to provide plastic “barrier bags” to hold produce or meat. Newport businesses in violation of the ordinance will be given written notice and could be subject to a fine of up to $1,000. According to the ordinance, the city could revoke any municipally issued license granted to the business in violation of the ban.

Amanda Eastman, front of house lead manager at A-Market on Bellevue Avenue, said the grocery store switched over to brown paper bags about a year ago and have been encouraging customers to use reusable bags.

“It coincided perfectly with the bag ban, plus we wanted to be more conscious of what we’re utilizing so we’re not wasting things,” Eastman said. “We’re definitely encouraging people to think about other ways to utilize the paper bag after they’ve brought their groceries home.”

Juan Campos, owner of Leo’s Market on Broadway, said that while he understands the environmental reasons for banning single-use plastic bags, switching to thicker plastic or brown paper bags will cost him significantly more than he was spending for single-use plastic bags, which he said cost between two and six cents apiece.

Reusable, 4-mil plastic bags will cost Campos as much as 60 cents apiece, or up to 40 cents apiece for paper bags, he said. On top of that, while he was able to purchase the single-use bags in smaller quantities, many distributors want business owners to purchase the thicker bags in quantities of 3,000 or more. And he said storing paper bags is hard because they are much bulkier.

“We want to be proactive about the environment and so a few years ago we gave away some reusable bags, but people never came back with them,” Campos said. “We would like to do…our part, but it’s going to be a challenge at first. I think we will introduce it without cost but eventually we will have to pass the cost through to our clients because we won’t be able to afford it otherwise.”

Other stores like Cumberland Farms on Broadway switched over to paper bags during the summer. Store manager Jason Mello said it also offers reusable bags for 99 cents.

“Our customers are slowly getting used to it,” he said. “We’ve been doing it for quite a while now and people seem to be pretty much on board now.”

Visit newportreuses.com for more information.

Return to top