Starting a Dialog about Getting Plastic Out of Charlestown’s Environment

The following letter appeared in local newspapers and is shared with us here by the author George C. Tremblay. Mr. Tremblay is Vice President of the Charlestown Town Council.

In a departure from the usual practice of offering a motion to approve a corrective course of action, on April 11 the Charlestown Town Council debated alternative options for best results. At issue is an effort to reduce solid waste by limiting transport of goods from retail outlets in single-use plastic bags and polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers. The objectives are to reduce the burden of spoils being buried in landfills, to combat pollution of the landscape and waterways with discarded non-biodegradable containers, and to protect marine life from the hazards of ingestion of these materials.

The initiative began in coastal regions, where plastic flotsam and jetsam in recreational marine environments is particularly obnoxious, and harm to marine life is more visible. On the west coast, some 81 municipalities in California have banned single-use plastic bags and/or expanded polystyrene take-out containers, as have Seattle and Portland to their north. Closer to home, in Massachusetts, 17 municipalities have banned single-use plastic bags, 4 have banned polystyrene take-out containers, and 6 more have banned both. Even Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, has banned single-use plastic and polystyrene containers.

New York City estimated it disposed of 28,500 tons of polystyrene waste in 2014, of which 90% was single-use cups and containers. We all know the heft of an empty polystyrene coffee cup. Try to imagine how many it takes to create 28,500 tons of waste. And, that waste does not go away. It is broken down to smaller and smaller indestructible particles that enter the food chain with uncertain impact on human health.

Rhode Island communities have sought relief, but none has yet taken action. Resolutions to the General Assembly for statewide action die in committee. We are a resort community, where pollution of the landscape and waterways detracts from the appeal of our tourist economy. I found support for a ban from some of the retailers I interviewed, but others are fiercely opposed owing to the added costs for biodegradable alternatives.

The Town Council debated whether to impose an ordinance, which has the force of law, on all retail businesses, or to adopt a non-binding resolution with incentives for voluntary participation. After much discussion that included members of the public who held strong opinions for each of the options, the town council directed its town administrator and legal counsel to draft a resolution rather than an ordinance, to be presented for public comment and council approval at a later date. The resolution will ban single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers by vendors operating in public spaces, like Ninigret Park. We are hoping to accomplish through example and education what 19 nations and the State of Hawaii found necessary to accomplish through law enforcement.

George C. Tremblay
George Tremblay

Video interview of George Tremblay on this issue on Channel 10 News

Related article in The Westerly Sun

Read about plastic pollution in the ocean at or watch the video below.