Governor’s Executive Order Takes Aim at Plastic Pollution by Establishing Task Force to Recommend Best Approaches to Avoiding Unnecessary Use of Disposables, Preventing Waste, and Increasing Recycling

NARRAGANSETT, RI – Governor Gina M. Raimondo Monday afternoon signed an Executive Order aimed to reduce reliance on single-use plastics that often end up in Rhode Island’s waters. The Tackling Plastics Executive Order targets single-use disposables such as shopping bags, bottles, cups and straws – along with items like six-pack rings and balloons – that become unsightly, dangerous and all-too-familiar litter on land and in coastal waters. The Governor signed the Executive Order at the pavilion at Scarborough State Beach during her Summer Office Hours at the beach.

“We must commit to a more sustainable future. 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,” said Governor Raimondo. “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.”
The Executive Order specifically creates a task force that will:
  1. Encourage the financial and market factors needed to support reducing and recycling plastics;
  2. Develop non-regulatory recognition and incentive programs, potential legislation and/or regulations and other measures to eliminate the sources of plastic pollution;
  3. Support and build on the new Zero Plastics Initiative with the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association (RIMTA) and on the state’s existing, successful recycling programs; and
  4. Educate Rhode Islanders on the importance of and means to reducing and recycling plastics.

The Governor will appoint chairs and members later this summer. The task force will provide recommendations to the Governor early next year.

“As a Rhode Islander whose family enjoys the sun and surf at Roger Wheeler State Beach on most summer weekends, Governor Raimondo knows and appreciates how critical it is that we confront the crisis of plastic pollution head-on,” said DEM Director Janet Coit. “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.”

“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 May, Rhode Island became the first state in the country to sign the United Nations-led Clean Seas Pledge, which Raimondo announced during the Volvo Ocean Race stopover at Fort Adams State Park in Newport. At the same time, Raimondo announced the Zero Plastics Initiative, a voluntary effort between the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), RIMTA, and marina operators to keep plastics out of Narragansett Bay and off ocean coastlines. Cove Haven Marina in Barrington last week became the first marina in the state to complete the 10 pollution-prevention action steps needed to be certified by DEM as a “Zero Plastics Marina Partner.” Also, DEM continues to partner with RIMTA, 11th Hour Racing, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation and RI Sea Grant on a pilot boat recycling program for abandoned or old fiberglass boats.

Resource Recovery has worked to combat contamination in the state’s mixed recycling stream, which recently reached an all-time high. Launched in July of 2017, Resource Recovery’s Let’s recycle RIghtÒ public awareness campaign spurred an over-the-year decrease of 18% in tons of recycling rejected by the quasi-public agency’s materials recycling facility in Johnston. The Solid Waste Association of North America will recognize Resource Recovery with an excellence award next month in Nashville.

The Governor met with more than a dozen environmental activists and leaders in her office earlier today to discuss additional steps the state can take to protect Rhode Island’s natural resources, coastline and waters.

Here follows text of the Tackling Plastics Executive Order:

WHEREAS, plastic pollution is dangerous to the health of our oceans and ocean species, contributes to climate change, is a major component of unsightly litter both on our lands and in our waters, and as such is one of the most important issues facing Rhode Island;

WHEREAS, developing stronger plastics reduction policies at the state level, designed to reduce the use of plastics and single use disposables, is a top goal of my administration;

WHEREAS, addressing plastics will have an important impact on the health and quality of our lands and waters, including our 400 miles of coastline;

WHEREAS, 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;

WHEREAS, studies have shown that 75-80% of marine debris is plastic material and that most of it is from shoreline litter and disposal, and products of particular concern include single-use shopping bags, single-use beverage containers, six-pack rings, straws, and balloons;

WHEREAS, plastic bags and thin plastic films are the predominant contaminant of recycling loads in Rhode Island, causing equipment failures at the State’s Materials Recycling Facility that drive up the cost of recycling and contributing to tons of valuable recyclable materials having to be diverted to the central landfill;

WHEREAS, Rhode Island can and should be a leader on reducing and eventually eliminating plastics pollution, and with the geography and size of the state, an initiative here could demonstrate innovation and results that could be scaled up or down to different locations across the globe;

WHEREAS, I launched a Zero Plastics Initiative in May 2018 to partner with our marinas to prevent plastics pollution, increase public awareness of the issues, and begin efforts to remove plastics from Narragansett Bay and our coastlines, and I signed the Clean Seas Pledge in a commitment to reduce my use of plastics;

WHEREAS, the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) serves as the chief steward of Rhode Island’s natural resources and has the mission of protecting, restoring, and promoting our environment, and the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation is committed to providing safe, environmentally compliant, clean and affordable recycling services for Rhode Islanders;

WHEREAS, plastic bags and other single use disposable items are used by many Rhode Island residents and businesses, and we must consider the impact of any new policies on all Rhode Islanders, including our low-income communities and small businesses; and

WHEREAS, it is critical to collaboratively develop the best approach to addressing the use, reuse, and clean-up of single use disposable plastics in Rhode Island;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Gina M. Raimondo, by virtue of the authority vested in me as Governor of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, do hereby order and direct the following:

1. There is hereby established the Task Force to Tackle Plastics (“Task Force”) that shall advise the Governor.

2. The members and chair(s) of the Task Force shall be appointed by the Governor and shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor. The membership shall include, but not be limited to, representatives from:

i. Environmental groups
ii. Marinas
iii. Relevant industries (e.g., retail, food service)
iv. Municipalities
v. Elected officials
vi. State agencies
3. The Task Force shall be organized and begin its work no later than September 17, 2018.4. The Task Force will provide recommendations to the Governor addressing the use, reuse, and clean-up of plastics in Rhode Island on or about February 18th, 2019.

5. These recommendations shall include but not be limited to actions 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

This Executive Order shall take effect immediately. Once the Task Force submits its recommendations to the Governor, it shall terminate its work.