NARRAGANSETT – From the shores of Scarborough Beach, Governor Gina Raimondo Monday signed an executive order to study reliance on plastic waste and its impact on Rhode Island’s natural resources. The executive order specifically will create the “Task Force to Tackle Plastics,” a body that will include environmental groups, marinas, relevant industries, state agencies and state lawmakers. According to Raimondo, the order is taking aim at reducing reliance on single-use plastics throughout the state. 

"We must commit to a more sustainable future,” said Raimondo. “Since I've been governor, we've taken tremendous steps to protect our environment and preserve our state's natural beauty. I believe that if we work together, we can end our reliance on single-use plastics and ensure a greener future for our kids.” 

"Through this Executive Order and the establishment of the Task Force to Tackle Plastics, we will collaborate with all stakeholders - environmental advocates, industry, large retailers and small businesses, communities, municipalities, the General Assembly and state agencies - and innovate for sustainable solutions, technologies, and alternatives to enable consumers and businesses to change their behavior,” Raimondo added. 

The members of the prospective task force will be appointed by the governor. The group begins its work no later than Sept. 17, per the executive order, and is expected to issue recommendations to the governor addressing the “use, reuse and clean-up of plastics in Rhode Island” on or about Feb. 18, 2019. Per the order, this direction will include, but not be limited to: 

“i. Encouraging the financial and market factors necessary to support reduction in and recycling of plastics.

ii. Developing non-regulatory recognition and incentive programs, as well as potential legislation and/or regulations, and other measures to eliminate the sources of plastic pollution.

iii. Supporting and building upon the Zero Plastics Initiative and our existing, successful recycling programs.

iv. Educating Rhode Islanders on the importance of and means to reducing and recycling plastics.” 

Raimondo said she expects to appoint chairs and members of the group later this summer. The executive order also mentions Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) role in the new body, noting DEM’s position as the “chief steward” of Rhode Island’s natural resources. 

"DEM stands ready to guide the Task Force to Tackle Plastics to reduce land litter and marine debris, protect our coastlines and promote stewardship of our one and only planet,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. 

Other state officials are calling the measure necessary, stating recycling efforts can only go so far in alleviating the effects of plastic waste. 

"We will never be able to recycle our way out of our plastic pollution problem, no matter how hard we try," said Johnathan Berard, Rhode Island State Director for Clean Water Action. "And single-item bans like those we see on plastic bags and straws are a good start, but what we really need to do is take a comprehensive, source-reduction approach to address the problems associated with single-use plastics and packaging. This is the only way we will be able to keep plastics from polluting our neighborhoods, waterways, and Narragansett Bay."

In the order, Raimondo points to the unseen problems caused by plastics, including the breakdown of plastic waste into microplastics after plastic waste is subjected to ocean elements and extended periods of sunlight. This material can then be ingested by marine life, a fact which poses a direct threat to Rhode Island culture and economy, according to the executive order.

“Plastics that enter the marine environment break down through wave action and sunlight into smaller pieces called microplastics, which can be ingested by marine life, putting Rhode Island's fishing industries and aquatic ecosystems at risk,” the document reads.

 The order also calls plastic pollution “one of the most important issues facing Rhode Island,” and also lists developing stronger plastic reduction policies at the state level as a “top goal” of Raimondo’s administration.

The move comes after national attention shifted to the growing amount of plastic waste in aquatic ecosystems and the impact such waste has had on marine life and the planet at large late last year. Locally, South Kingstown passed a single-use plastic bag ban last month and Narragansett is currently deliberating single-use plastic bag bans at the town level. The towns, like the state, are considering or did consider the potential impact on businesses before moving forward with the ban. 

Proposed legislation in the Rhode Island General Assembly, the Plastic Waste Reduction Act (2018-S 2354 and (2017-H 5946), failed to pass last legislative session.

The towns of Barrington, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Jamestown, Bristol, South Kingstown and Block Island have already passed plastic bag ban ordinances. 

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