Workshops Can Work

Last week, the Barrington Conservation Commission, Economic Development Committee and Town Council jointly held a public workshop to discuss a proposed ordinance that will ban styrofoam and unrecyclable plastics from use in food service or sold as end products.

There were two guest speakers. A restaurateur who went “plastic free” a few seasons ago shared how that change was not overly challenging or costly. He also shared that he believes it’s been a key reason for improved business the past few seasons at his Misquamicut restaurant.

The other guest was an expert in the field who explained why certain plastics and styrofoam aren’t recyclable, and was with us to answer the more technical questions.

The workshop was posted in the paper, along with an article written about it, it was posted on the town’s calendar, and all related businesses were directly invited to participate. A handful of community members attended, with only one Barrington business represented.

If it passes, we will be the first municipality in Rhode Island to enact this policy, just as we were for the plastic bag ban several years ago. As such, I anticipated this was going to be a lively workshop, with appeals made both in favor and against the ordinance. There was little of that, and our conversation centered mostly around specific language in the ordinance, clarifying what certain thing mean and amending portions that were inconsistent.

The owners of a variety store and restaurant on Sowams Rd expressed concern about some specific items they sell and the challenge of providing those goods to customers at a fair price in different serving containers. Mike Carroll, Council President, reiterated that the purpose of the workshop -- and goal of our Council -- is to work with businesses, not against them. It was pointed out that there are protections for businesses written into the ordinance. The Town Manager is able to provide exemptions, and items without a reasonably-available alternative that is compostable or recyclable is suggested as an exemption. The proprietors said they agree with the purpose of the ordinance, and said they wanted to ensure their business and their customers wouldn’t suffer.

Their comments, along with suggestions from other attendees lead to a plan to publish an informational brochure relating to the ordinance. It will explain in ordinary terms what items will not be allowed, if the ordinance goes into effect. It will also provide examples of environmentally-friendly items to be used in place of those that would no longer be allowed.

Again, as with the public comment portion of this month’s Council meeting,  it was evident to me that our democratic process works. People and policy makers come together to talk about how to best accomplish goals. The extent to which it works well as a representation of our whole community is directly influenced by how many people choose to be involved.

We have a workshop to discuss our town’s fields coming up next week, on Feb 6, at 7:00 PM in the Council Chamber at Town Hall. This is a topic that impacts thousands of people in town. I hope all views are represented so that we can have a productive conversation about how to provide consistent access to our fields, enhance the quality of them, and fairly cover the cost of doing so.

One thing I have learned in short time about my colleagues on the Council is that we all love our town and the community of people who live here. We want each to be the best they can be. To do that, we work to advance initiatives we believe accomplish that. Those initiatives are determined by the feedback we receive.

A representative democracy works to the extent that people who are being represented make their views known. Thank you to everybody who comments on this blog, on my Facebook page, and sends me email or letters. Your feedback is invaluable.