By ZACHARY TAYLOR With the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee moving its proposed bag ban, Rhode Island is one step closer to ensuring that all plastic bags allowed in the state will all end up in one place, according to the Rhode Island
With the Senate Environment and Agriculture Committee moving its proposed bag ban, Rhode Island is one step closer to ensuring that all plastic bags allowed in the state will all end up in one place, according to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation: the landfill.
By mandating that reusable bags have “stitched handles,” Rhode Island lawmakers hope to eliminate plastic bag usage in the Ocean State and push consumers toward what they believe is a more sustainable carryout bag option.
However, more often than not, reusable bags with stitched handles—like the ones commonly available for 99 cents or $1.99 near the checkout area at grocery and retail stores—are in fact made from plastic and are not recyclable anywhere in the United States. Additionally, the vast majority of these bags are imported from overseas.
There’s a better way forward for Rhode Island that doesn’t mandate shopping bags that inevitably end up in a landfill. Lawmakers should define reusable bags based on their ability to be reused – not on their “stitching.” This will give much needed flexibility for businesses and consumers to offer both reusable and recyclable products that meet their customers’ needs.
There is irony in a “plastic bag ban” mandating heavier, nonrecyclable plastic bags so long as they have “stitched handles,” but the consequences of this policy for small businesses and American workers are no laughing matter.
Traditional, thin-gauge plastic grocery bags as well as reusable plastic film bags - which are allowed under bag bans throughout the country - are made here in the United States and support thousands of good American manufacturing jobs. Importantly, they are 100% recyclable through the plastic bag and film recycling bins at stores such as Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, Walmart, and Target.
Once returned, these bags and other plastic wraps and films find new life as new plastic bags, composite lumber, railroad ties, playground equipment, or asphalt. On the other hand, their stitched-handled counterparts are overwhelming imported from overseas and as previously noted, are not recyclable anywhere in the United States.
Worse, due to ongoing nationwide shortages of both paper bags and reusable bags, costs have skyrocketed for struggling businesses. Ultimately, these costs will get passed onto consumers in the form of higher prices – which is the last thing Rhode Islanders need right now with a 7.1% unemployment rate and slow economic recovery.
Should Rhode Island pass this broken and unworkable law, businesses will be forced to spend a significant amount of money buying alternative products in bulk – or be left without any bags whatsoever.
In fact, several other states and localities, including Washington, Oregon, and Maine, have delayed or suspended their bag policies due to these shortages and the associated economic challenges.
Outside advocates argue that the “stitched handles” requirement is necessary to close an alleged “loophole.” We disagree. If Rhode Island wants to address bag usage and encourage consumers to adopt reusable bags, it should set standards based on use and durability.
Eliminating the counterproductive stitched-handles standard would give businesses the flexibility to offer consumers affordable, American-made, reusable, and recyclable plastic film bags that are independently certified to not only be durable enough for at least 125 reuses, but also contain recycled content – an important consideration if Rhode Island wants to move the needle on sustainability and circularity.
Rhode Islanders concerned about climate change should want this, as every lifecycle assessment ever conducted has found that stitched-handle bags require significantly more uses to offset their increased environmental impact when compared to thin-gauge plastic bags.
This bill and the “stitched handles” mandate misses the mark on sustainability while also directly impacting struggling businesses and consumers. Legislators should take this bill back to the drawing board and instead focus on passing a single, statewide bag policy that defines reusable bags based on durability standards, not stitching.
Zachary Taylor is the director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, which represents the U.S. manufacturers and recyclers of plastic bags.