Rhode Island bill seeks to stifle miniature plastic liquor bottle problem

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“Pinches are useless,” said Santos, who recently found a few at his son’s school bus stop. “There are usually about 10 kids there, and I walked down the street and looked at the bus stop and there were three little Fireball pinches.”

Now Santos is on a mission to pick up and put an end to the tiny but troublesome bottles. She joined the Lincoln Conservation Commission to help with local cleanup efforts in the Blackstone River Valley near her home.

The Lincoln Conservation Commission encourages participation in the cleanup by awarding one hour of community service participation for every 50 pinches collected.

From left, Stephanie Santos, Elise Torello and Evan Travis collect plastic tongs from recycling bins on Tuesday, March 8, 2022.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Interested individuals can join the cleanup effort by showing up at events posted on the Lincoln Rhode Island Community Cleanup Team! The Facebook page.

The location of the bottles tells Santos that people are throwing them away in violation of state waste laws. “Unfortunately, it only takes a handful of people with repetitive bad behavior to have a real impact on a community,” Santos wrote in a Facebook post.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the penalty for litter ranges from $85 to $1,000. Some first-time offenders may be ordered to pick up litter for at least 25 hours or more, and are responsible for cleanup costs.

The department noted that the ongoing cleanup of trash, often done by inmate cleanup crews from the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, costs the state about $400,000 a year. It is estimated that 65,000 bin bags are used each year to collect waste from roadways.

“So unfortunately some of them end up on the street at my son’s bus stop, behind my pond, you know in our waterways,” Santos said. “They pop up everywhere, and they just don’t do anything useful.”

But community cleanup crews are teaming up to do something beyond picking up the tiny bottles. They hope a new bottle bill could solve the problem.

House Bill 7378 is on the agenda Thursday of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. The Beverage Container Deposit Recycling Act of 2022 creates a 10-cent refundable deposit for non-reusable beverage containers and a 4-cent handling fee that would be paid by distributors. But it’s unclear whether the bill will deter bugs, who would have to return the bottles to get their money back, or how willing distributors might be to handle buybacks.

Bill McCusker uses a backhoe to place plastic clips into recycling bins. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

In South Kingstown, David Flanders, chairman of the South Kingstown Conservation Commission and Tree Advisory Council, has asked the city for a hearing to discuss an amendment to the current plastics ordinance, which bans plastic bags. plastic. He noted the “pervasive proliferation” of non-recyclable bottles as the reason for the law update.

In its letter, Flanders said their small size makes the pinches easy to throw out of a vehicle, fill landfills and soil and groundwater with plastics. Fragments of the bottles slip into storm drains which carry them into the Saugatucket River, through Point Judith Pond and into the Atlantic Ocean.

Flanders, who is a professional piano technician, became a certified arborist to join the South Kingstown Conservation Commission and the Tree Board because he was concerned about the litter he found strewn around Rhode Island.

“We are awaiting a response from council,” Flanders said. “We have requested a response to this letter. I will check the next calendars.

Liquor store managers told Flanders that small bottles are a big part of their business.

Louis Cassis, president of Braintree, Massachusetts, Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of Massachusetts, wrote in a commentary in November that in the Commonwealth, the refund rate was at an all-time low – 43% – while unclaimed deposits, which going to the State General Fund, are at an all-time high of $61 million.

Bill McCusker, left, and Evan Travis dump plastic clips from a canoe they used as storage before sorting the clips into recycling bins. Erin Clark/Globe Staff

On Tuesday, Santos took her bottles to South Kingstown, where she met Bill McCusker of the Friends of Saugatucket and other band members to combine their bottles for a photo that would be submitted to lawmakers at Thursday’s committee meeting.

They filled to the brim a canoe that was used to pick up trash out of the water in the summer.

McCusker said bottles aren’t the only source of pollution — vape cartridges, plastic straws from fast food and doggie bags (some containing poo) are equally troubling. But one problem at a time.

“It’s like picking up pine cones that are on a pine tree,” McCusker said. “They are everywhere.”

McCusker’s group is giving away free t-shirts and hats to helpers. They collected pinches from all over Rhode Island. There are hotspots for discarded bottles.

“On ramps, freeway exit ramps, around liquor stores, their parking lots, the roads leading off them, many rural areas where it’s dark and lonely where you feel comfortable throwing something out the window,” McCusker said. He said drivers don’t want to get caught with them.

McCusker said banning single-serve bottles is one way to get rid of it. Currently, small plastic bottles cannot be recycled in Rhode Island. They are too small to be sorted.

“In my opinion, they serve no purpose other than accommodating people who want to drink while they drive,” he said. “But banning them is really the solution. … This is not a new idea. Look around the country, there are many different communities that have already banned these things. »

Several Massachusetts towns, including Newton, Chelsea, Wareham and Mashpee, have recently banned the sale of these tiny bottles or are considering doing so.

McCusker said he wanted to make it clear he’s not averse to alcohol. He likes that. But he resents the plastic pollution created by bottle waste.

“I understand liquor stores want to make sure they keep their results as black as possible,” McCusker said. “But the environmental impact is my concern. In my opinion, it is more important.


Carlos Muñoz can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews.

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