SOUTH KINGSTOWN — As the new year approaches, so does implementation of South Kingstown’s Plastic Reduction Ordinance. 

Effective Jan. 1, the ordinance prohibits businesses in town from distributing plastic carryout bags, including those found at checkout counters. 

“What the ordinance is targeting are those most ubiquitous bags that are doing the most harm,” David Flanders, chair of South Kingstown’s conservation commission, explained during a sustainability forum in October. “Those are the ones that end up in trees, those are the ones that end up in the oceans and break down into micro-plastics.”

Adopted unanimously by the town council in June, the Plastic Reduction Ordinance was compiled to “protect the wildlife and coastal ecosystems of South Kingstown, the enjoyment of nature, and the health, safety and welfare of South Kingstown’s visitors.”

The ordinance saw widespread community support, with members of Girl Scout Troop 560 from Matunuck and dozens of students from Curtis Corner Middle School—who through their own research, figured out that approximately 9.5 million plastic checkout bags are used each year in South Kingstown—among those who advocated tirelessly for its adoption.  

It also saw broad support among South Kingstown business owners. Out of more than 30 local businesses surveyed by the economic development committee, just three said they would not support a ban on single-use plastic bags. 

Laura Pointek, recycling coordinator for South Kingstown, on Thursday called the ordinance a “positive first step in a comprehensive strategy” to end plastic pollution. 

When Pointek began as the town’s recycling coordinator a decade ago, there was no comprehensive recycling program. She’s since been inspired by how the community has grown to embrace environmentally conscious initiatives like recycling. 

Pointek added that she views plastic reduction across South Kingstown as “completely doable.”

“We have a bunch of residents and visitors that love the ocean and love our community who I think will get on board very quickly,” she said. “I don’t see any problem with our community embracing this ordinance.”

While the Plastic Reduction Ordinance effectively bans plastic carryout bags, it also encourages the use of reusable bags. 

Defined as having stitched handles and a minimum thickness of four mils, each reusable bag could potentially eliminate between 300 and 500 of its disposable plastic counterparts, according to research by the conservation commission. 

“The goal here is really the longer haul of changing our mindset,” Flanders said after showing off a bag he’s been using for more than 35 years. 

Flanders has also been adamant that paper bags are not a sustainable alternative to plastic.

Pointek shared a similar sentiment. 

“Although they’re recyclable and easy to compost, [paper bags] still use our natural resources,” she said. 

There are, however, some exceptions to the ban on single-use plastic bags. Plastic barrier bags—like those used to transport produce, meats and baked goods, for example—are exempt. Double-opening plastic bags, including laundry dry-cleaning bags, are also exempt, as are garbage and pet waste bags and bags containing prescription drugs. 

As for expanding the ordinance in the future, Pointek noted that there are other municipalities where bans on plastic straws and other plastic items have also been enacted. 

“We want to keep our options open to adding other plastics,” Flanders said during the forum. “There are just so many other things we can do.”

And by embracing such environmentally friendly initiatives as the ban on single-use plastic bags, the town inches closer toward realizing its sustainability goals.  

“We want to protect our environment, and to be stewards of our beautiful community,” Pointek said. “I think we’re all very lucky that we live here and that we can share this community with visitors.”

kgravelle@ricentral.com

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