By Elizabeth F. McNamara

What if you pass a law and nobody heard about it? That seems to be what happened to the ban on single-use plastic bags passed into law in East Greenwich Oct. 15, with a 90-day grace period. Eleven days after the end of the grace period, plastic bags are still being distributed at stores throughout East Greenwich, including CVS, Dave’s, and mini-marts like Main Street Convenience Store. 

Employees at all of the above outlets knew nothing about a ban. One store manager said he’d learned about it from a customer only last week. 

There is nothing on the town’s website about the new law and the town issued no official communication. The town didn’t think that would be necessary, said Town Manager Andrew Nota.

Based on our prior experience with such ordinances,” said Nota, “they traditionally come with significant local media coverage, detailed information and Chamber of Commerce distribution, [so] contact on these issues directly with business owners has not been necessary. Follow up from our enforcement officers would normally handle any gaps in communication that may exist.”

Nota became town manager in East Greenwich in September, after serving in that capacity in Jamestown, which enacted a single-use ban during his tenure. 

As for “significant local media coverage” – there wasn’t much. East Greenwich News even failed to spread the word. We did cover the new ordinance when it was introduced and at the public hearing Sept. 23, but we failed to write a story about its passage Oct. 15. And a search for any other news articles on the new law came up blank.

Plastic bags were still in use at the Dave’s Marketplace at 1000 Division St. in mid-January.

East Greenwich Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Steve Lombardi spoke in favor of the ordinance at the public hearing, but a review of emails from the chamber since Oct. 15 turned up no mention of the new ordinance. 

Nota acknowledged something needed to change. 

“Based on what we’re now hearing, additional communication may be necessary and we will promptly assess that need in the coming days,” he said via email over the weekend. “We will discuss the best approach to ensuring that local business owners actually have the required  information, and more importantly understand the requirements to comply.”

He noted that the ordinance does not affect all businesses, since many don’t use those types of plastic bags, and some plastic bags are still allowed, including smaller bags used at grocery stores for produce or at hardware stores for small items. Also exempt: plastic bags over flowers or potted plants and drying cleaning bags.

Businesses with a large stockpile of plastic bags may appeal to the town for an extension.

Read the ordinance here: EG’s Plastic Bag Ordinance.

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