Earlier this month, activist and volunteer for Surfrider International - Rhode Island Chapter, of the environmental and monetary costs of single-use-plastics.
“Remember, World War II was won without single-use plastics,” she said regarding society’s growing dependency on plastics. She explained that not only does the non-biodegradable material clutter our shorelines and waters, it clogs sewers, gutters and drain pipes, which have direct costs to taxpayers.
Wagenback explained that while the foundation has been working with local businesses through awareness campaigns to reduce the use disposable plastics, eventually, governmental regulation should be explored.
Since her initial presentation to Council, Town Administrator Shawn Brown went back to speak with local businesses. He agreed that many are moving in that direction on their own.
“Of the business I spoke with, most said a ban would not be a huge inconvenience to them,” said Brown at Monday night's Town Council meeting. He said many Middletown businesses already encourage reusable bag and that Stop and Shop credits customers $.05 when they use reusable bags.
“Since our last meeting Surfrider, together with Clean Ocean Access, has gained even greater support on both a grass roots and business level for this movement," Wagnback told Council on Monday.
She said nine Middletown businesses have taken steps to phase out plastics, including , , , , , , , Aquidneck Pizza and West Marine.
“We have accumulated a number of signed petition cards from residents in
Middletown, but also from folks who reside in Newport and Portsmouth as well as other towns in the state who share our interest in this issue as they also enjoy Middletown’s beaches and bring their money to the businesses here,” she said.
Brown said that while he might support more formal regulation on a plastic bag ban in Middletown, it would be more appropriately applied at the State level. All members of council informally said that they would support a memorandum to communicate the town’s support of a future bill.
Ken Lacey, owner of Easton’s Point Pub and Restaurant, said that for a restaurant, paper to-go containers costs approximately 20 percent more than plastic, so ideally, he would like to eventually see governmental incentives.
“As a lifelong Middletown resident and surfer, I have reduced our use of single-use plastics at Easton's,” said Lacey. “People come for lobster rolls and the water view, so as a business, we know more than anyone the cost of a dirty shoreline. It’s Middletown’s greatest asset, and we need to work together to preserve it.”
Sarah Kite, Director of Recycling Services at Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, (RIRRC), told Brown a per-bag fee for single use plastic grocery bags would be a more effective way to change bag use habits.
She also said she supported extending producer responsibility where bag manufacturers would hold greater responsibility for the post-use disposal of bags.
Council said they will coordinate with Senator Louis DiPalma to coordinate next steps and to put together a formal letter of support of the campaign.