Providence’s Retail Plastic Bag Ban was developed by the Providence City Council with input from the City’s Office of Sustainability, the Racial and Environmental Justice Committee (REJC) and other community organizations. The ordinance was approved unanimously by the City Council on Earth Day, April 22, 2019 and signed into law by Mayor Jorge O. Elorza on May 1st, 2019.
The ban went into effect on October 22, 2019. Read the ordinance online here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What does the ban do?
The ban prohibits retailers from offering single-use plastic bags at the checkout counter. The ban seeks to curb litter in the streets, reduce contamination of the City’s recycling system, and protect our waterways and marine environment, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Q: How do I know if I’m considered a “retailer”?
Retail establishment means any person, corporation, partnership, business venture, or vendor that sells or provides merchandise, goods, or materials directly to a customer, whether for or not for profit. This includes (but is not limited to) restaurants, pharmacies, convenience and grocery stores, liquor stores, seasonable and temporary businesses, jewelry stores, and household goods stores. “Retail establishment” does not include sales by residents at their homes.
Q: What can retailers offer instead?
If any retail establishment provides a checkout bag to customers, the bag shall comply with the requirements of being a Reusable Bag or a Recyclable Paper Bag.
– Reusable Bag: a bag specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse, with handles which are stitched and not heat-fused. The bag cannot be made of any non-recycled plastic.
– Recyclable Paper Bag: a paper bag that is 100% recyclable including the handles, contains at least 40% post-consumer paper content, and displays the words “Recyclable” and “made from 40% post-consumer recycled content (or other applicable amount) in a visible manner on the outside of the bag.
Q: Can I offer thicker plastic bags? What if they are specifically labeled as “recyclable” and/or “reusable”?
No. A label on the bag isn’t necessarily enough! While many thicker plastic bags are marketed as “recyclable” or “reusable” and can be used more than once, this is not enough to make them worth the environmental cost.
In order to be acceptable under Providence’s Retail Bag Ban, a reusable bag must have handles which are stitched and not heat-fused. Stitched handles indicate the bag has been specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse. The bag cannot be made of any non-recycled plastic.
Q: Can I offer “biodegradable” or “compostable” bags?
No. Most bags that claim to be “biodegradable” or “compostable” only break-down in certain temperatures and with special processes. If not disposed of properly, these bags can still cause harm to wildlife and have a negative impact on the environment.
Q: What about produce bags and other plastic bags?
Bags used to hold and transport produce are exempt, as are laundry and dry-clean bags, newspaper bags, and bags used to contain or wrap frozen foods, meat or fish.
Q: Has COVID-19 changed the bag law?
No. The Retail Plastic Bag Reduction Act is still in place.
Q: Can I use reusable bags during COVID-19?
A statement from over 100 health experts noted that available evidence indicates that the virus spreads primarily from inhaling aerosolized droplets, rather than through contact with surfaces. Further, single-use plastic is not inherently safer than reusables, with studies showing that COVID-19 can remain infectious on surfaces including plastic.
We recommend that customers self-bag when reusable bags are used at checkout. We also recommend that customers regularly clean their reusable bags (as with all surfaces) to kill the virus and protect themselves and others.
See these guidelines on how to wash different types of reusable bags: https://www.cleaninginstitute.org/cleaning-tips/clothes/fabric-care/cleaning-reusable-bags
For more information on the local response to COVID-19, resources or operational changes, residents can visit www.PVDCOVID19.com. Residents may also call to connect to the Mayor’s Center for City Services by dialing 3-1-1, visiting www.PVD311.com or downloading the PVD311 mobile app on your smartphone for 24/7 access.
Q: Can I qualify for or extend an exemption?
In the first year of implementation, retail establishments were able to request temporary exemptions to Providence’s Retail Plastic Bag Ban. The vast majority of approved or partially approved requests were in order to allow retailers additional time to draw down on existing inventory of single-use plastic checkout bags. Exemptions based on excess inventory will not be permitted beyond October 22, 2020.
Q: What happens if a retailer continues to offer single-use plastic bags at the counter?
Retail establishments found in violation of Providence’s Retail Plastic Bag Ban will be issued a warning notice for the initial violation. Each violation that occurs after the issuance of a warning notice will impose a penalty against the retail establishment. The penalty for each violation that occurs (after the issuance of a warning notice) shall be:
– $50 for the first offense.
– $100 for the second and all subsequent offenses.
Payment of such fines may be enforced through civil action in the City Municipal Court. All revenue collected as a result of violations shall be deposited into a designated city fund for furthering community education and outreach on recycling and waste matters.
Acceptable & Unacceptable Bags Under Providence’s Retail Bag Ban