In April, the Providence Journal strongly endorsed reducing use of plastic bags, but the newspaper continues to use more than 100,000 plastic bags a day.
Chemical and grocery lobbyists this year derailed state legislation to discourage plastic bag use, but the push for restrictions is growing nationally. In response, the Journal’s bag supplier is promoting a new biodegradable bag.
Five years ago, the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation estimated that Rhode Islanders use 162 million plastic grocery bags every year. In addition, Journal carriers deliver Rhode Island’s leading newspaper in a plastic bag every day — and two bags when it rains.
With a daily home delivery circulation of 105,000, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the ProJo adds more than 38 million plastic bags a year to Rhode Island’s waste stream. Other newspapers, including the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, have similar practices, but at least one, the twice-weekly Warwick Beacon, uses bags only when it rains, according to publisher John Howell Jr.
State Representative Amy Rice (D-Portsmouth), who sponsored recent changes in Rhode Island’s plastic bag law, and Resource Recovery’s recycling manager, Sarah Kite, say they have never talked with Journal representatives about the issue.
Barbara Norman, the ProJo’s senior director of consumer marketing, didn’t respond to two phone calls from the Phoenix.
In an April 6 editorial, however, the Journal lamented plastic bag use, calling it, “a big problem.” The paper noted how plastic bags are made from oil, create litter, fill scarce landfill space, endanger wildlife, and “take a thousand years to decompose.” To reduce bag use, the Journal suggested that Rhode Island copy Ireland’s example by implementing a fee for using plastic bags.
Spurred by the Rhode Island chapter of the Sierra Club, Rice and state Senator Dominick Ruggerio (D-Providence) this spring sponsored bills requiring stores to refund customers three cents for using their own shopping bag.
In a meeting with American Chemistry Council lobbyist Dennis Roberts II and Rhode Island Food Dealers Association lobbyist Carolyn Murray, however, Rice says, she and Ruggerio agreed to water down their bills to ensure passage. The new law adds plastic dry cleaning and newspaper bags to the list of bags that stores must collect, and it requires them to report where the bags are recycled.
Sierra Club transportation chair Barry Schiller, who says he is disappointed by the new law, still supports a mandatory incentive to reuse bags. He has no recommendations for newspaper bags.
Meanwhile, some newspapers are switching to biodegradable bags. On June 30, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis became the first large American newspaper to use oxobiodegradable bags made by Dallas-based GP Plastics Corporation.
Mike Skinner, the company’s chief financial officer, says four more large daily newspapers will switch to the bag within a month, including one in New England. He declines to name the newspapers, but confirms that the Providence Journal is one of his company’s customers.
All US daily newspapers, except those in desert areas, use bags, and together, they consume between six billion and seven billion a year, estimates Skinner. With only two percent of plastic bags recycled nationally, he says, the new bag, which costs one-tenth of a cent more than the traditional plastic bag, may be a more practical solution.