Bennett bills take aim at litter from nips, food packaging
STATE HOUSE – House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman David A. Bennett has introduced two bills aimed at reducing waste and litter by prohibiting the sale of the miniature alcoholic beverages known as “nips” as well as disposable polystyrene foam containers and plastic stirrers.
Chairman Bennett’s committee is scheduled to hold a hearing today on both bills.
“We are the Ocean State, and unfortunately, litter that pollutes our streets and land often does double duty by winding up in our waterways and the bay, harming wildlife. But we don’t need to stand for it. There are many tools available to us that can be very effective at cutting down on both litter and waste in our landfill, and it’s up to us to get to work implementing them,” said Chairman Bennett (D-Dist. 20, Warwick, Cranston).
The first bill (2022-H 7064) would prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages in containers that hold no more than 100 mL. It exempts their sale or distribution on commercial airplanes and trains, as long as they are collected before passengers disembark. The bill would take effect upon passage.
While popular for their convenience — and the ease with which they can be consumed or transported inconspicuously — nips are a very commonly littered form of packaging in Rhode Island. Their small size also makes them ingestible by marine animals when they land in the water.
Additionally, even if they are placed in a recycling bin, they are often too small for Rhode Island Resource Recovery’s sorting equipment, so they ultimately are disposed of in the landfill.
Last year, Chairman Bennett introduced legislation requiring a 50-cent deposit on nips bottles and requiring retailers and redemption centers to take them in and ultimately return them to bottlers. But after conversations with liquor store owners who believed that system would be too much work for them, this year he proposed getting rid of the bottles altogether.
The second bill (2022-H 7063) would ban food services establishments from processing, preparing, selling or providing food or beverages in packaging made in whole or in part of blown, expanded or extruded polystyrene foam, or from providing beverage stirrers made from plastic. The bill is intended to apply to items like takeout containers and cups as well as egg cartons and trays that hold items like meat.
The bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2024, and would apply to restaurants and any other establishment where prepared food is served, including farmers’ markets, food pantries and nursing homes, although the bill does include exceptions for hospitals and “Meals on Wheels”-type programs.
Polystyrene foam has long been used for packaging because it is cheap to produce, lightweight to ship and effective at retaining both heat and cold. However, it is not often cost-effective to recycle and does not biodegrade. It also breaks apart easily and floats, which makes it dangerous to animals that mistake it for food.
Banning it would mean foam containers would be replaced with less harmful containers, including those that are accepted for recycling in Rhode Island, Chairman Bennett said.
Maine, Maryland and numerous cities, including New York and Washington, have already banned foam containers.
“We have to face the fact that our landfill is going to reach capacity in 12 years if we don’t drastically cut back on the trash we are producing. We need to change our habits,” said Chairman Bennett. “Single-use food containers, particularly the ones that aren’t recyclable, are a huge source of waste and litter. But we have great alternatives, and small changes can make a difference. We need to take real action – sooner, not later – to stop filling our landfill, our ocean, our streets and the rest of our environment with so much unnecessary waste.”
Last year, Rhode Island passed legislation sponsored by Chairman Bennett to cut down on disposable plastic straws. The bill (2021-H 5131A), which took effect Jan. 1, now prohibits food service establishments from providing plastic straws unless requested by the consumer.
“Eliminating or reducing these wasteful packaging products will help Rhode Island address some of our problems with solid waste, and it will also help address the problems worldwide. Every state, county and municipality that joins the growing call for less wasteful packaging creates a demand for packaging that is better for the earth,” said Chairman Bennett.