The Westerly Sun

CHARLESTOWN — Members of the Town Council voiced unanimous support at Monday’s meeting for a bill introduced in the Rhode Island House of Representatives that would prohibit the intentional release of balloons.

The issue was first brought to the attention of the council at the Jan. 13 council meeting by lobsterman Norbert Stamps, who asked the council to enact an ordinance prohibiting balloon releases. Stamps said he and other offshore fishermen were seeing floating discarded balloons with increasing frequency.

“One of our concerns is, when they release in Rhode Island, those balloons float over Cape Cod and go into Cape Cod Bay. And what’s in Cape Cod Bay? Endangered northern right whales. And they eat these balloons,” he told the council at the meeting.

The House bill, introduced on Jan. 23 by Rep. Susan Donovan, D-Bristol, has received support from fishermen and Save The Bay, whose volunteers collect hundreds of discarded balloons each year during the coastal clean-up.

Council President Virginia Lee said balloons were a significant component of plastic waste that ends up in the ocean.

“This is being considered at the state level because we’re having so many problems with balloons on our beaches and in our waterways,” she said.

Block Island prohibits not only balloon releases but also the sale of balloons. Council Vice President Deborah Carney said she supported the bill, but added that she believed the Block Island ordinance went too far.

“That’s a bit much, I think, to say you can’t even sell a balloon,” she said. “I think the state version is much better and I would support that legislation.”

Also on the subject of plastic waste, the council discussed a resolution supporting state legislation that would ban the use of plastic bags throughout Rhode Island. The Plastic Waste Reduction Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee, D-South Kingstown, and in the Senate by Sen. Dominick Ruggerio, D-Providence.

The Senate bill states:

“Single-use plastic bags have severe environmental impacts on a local and global scale, including pollution of our waters, harm to marine and wildlife, greenhouse gas emissions, blocking storm drains and creating litter; It is in the best interests of the health, safety and welfare of citizens of and visitors to Rhode Island to protect our environment and our natural resources by reducing the distribution of single-use plastic checkout bags and incentivizing the use of reusable bags.”

Carney proposed asking the town’s Economic Improvement Commission for its input on single-use plastic bags and other plastic containers.

“I know they’ve studied it in the past and they’ve surveyed businesses and a lot of businesses in town have already voluntarily gone to using the reusable bags,” she said. “I’d like to get their input.”

Councilor Bonnie Van Slyke said it would be interesting to see whether business owners who were opposed to a plastic bag ban proposed several years ago would support a ban today.

The council will discuss  and possibly vote on a resolution supporting the state legislation at the March council meeting.


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