Charlestown Effort to Reduce Plastic Waste

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.

Environmental pollution with plastic waste is reaching epic proportions. The durability of plastic in the environment makes it a cumulative problem most obviously addressed by recycling and reducing consumption. For single-use plastic bags, like those provided to carry goods from a store, recycling is not effective. Of the 1,500 single-use plastic bags brought home by the average household each year, only 5 percent get recycled. The rest are buried in landfills, essentially for all eternity, or otherwise discarded into our surroundings.

Ineffective recycling suggests banning the bags and reducing their consumption are more promising. But legislation to ban the bags is fraught with conflict between environmentally conscious consumers and cost-conscious retailers and their plastic-bag manufacturers. Several bills to ban single-use plastic bags have died in the state legislature. That leaves us with reducing consumption as the untested promise for an effective policy.

To promote public awareness of the profligate consumption of single-use plastic bags, and the environmental impact of plastic waste, the Charlestown Town Council held two public discussions. These discussions prompted the town to ban single-use plastic bags on municipal properties only, and to otherwise focus on reducing consumption at retail outlets by promoting reusable tote bags.

The council appropriated funds toward weaning shoppers from plastic by subsidizing reusable washable tote bags to carry items in the store to the cash register, and from the cash register to the parking lot. The bags, made of natural fiber, are to be provided to local merchants at about half the cost incurred by the town, on condition that they be resold to customers without markup. Each bag is embossed with an attractive logo that identifies the bag as a product of the Town of Charlestown and its “Green Consumer Initiative.” The bags come with a similarly embossed bumper sticker to promote the initiative. Merchants are invited to advertise their voluntary participation in the program by posting the sticker for prominent display at their place of business.

The tightly woven natural fabric of our bags is made from jute, a plant that grows well in tropical wetlands. Our bags are purchased from a “fair trade” manufacturer who obtains jute from nearby growers. They come in two sizes: a large beach carryall and a smaller store-size tote. The bags are coated with a thin waterproof interior for ease of sponge-washing, and a rope handle for a comfortable grip. They will be distributed while they last at $2 each to any business registered in Charlestown, on a first-come, first-served basis. We urge businesses interested in partnering with the town in this initiative to place their order with the town administrator’s office at 401-364-1210.

In addition to their utility in transporting goods, we think tourists will find these bags an attractive Charlestown souvenir.

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