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Source: Riverhead Local

Why Suffolk lawmakers should pass the single-use plastic bag ban

BY KARL GROSSMAN

Posted: April 12, 2016
Originally Published: April 8, 2016

There could be a vote by the Suffolk County Legislature next month on a bill to ban the distribution of single-use plastic bags countywide. Such a prohibition already exists in various towns and villages in Suffolk — including Patchogue, Sag Harbor, Sagaponack, Quogue and both the villages and towns of East Hampton and Southampton — and has been enacted by governments around the country and world.

There was a public hearing on the measure on March 22 at which more than 30 people including representatives of environmental organizations urged its passage. Only a handful including an official of the Food Industry Alliance of New York spoke against the bill.

First the bill must be passed by legislature’s Health Committee, which tabled it yesterday and will take it up again on May 5. There is a split among legislators.

Its lead sponsor is William Spencer, a medical doctor from Centerport. In introducing the bill last month he declared, “The public support to end the use of these polluting bags has been on the rise. I’ve heard the frustration about how they end up as unsightly litter on our roadways and in our waterways after being used for all of 12 minutes.” Moreover, he has “heard from business owners who feel” having a “countywide policy” to reduce the use of such bags “would make sense,” he said. “The time has come to work together and tackle the issue.”

Opposed is Legislator Tom Cilmi of Bay Shore, formerly in the printing business, who says: “While I am as concerned as anyone with our environment and with litter in our communities the outright ban proposed on so-called single-use plastic bags proposed by Legislator Spencer is wrong on many levels. In the first place, this is a back door tax on business and ultimately on consumers…Second, there is no guarantee that replacement bags will be any less harmful to our environment.”

Legislator Al Krupski, a Cutchogue farmer whose district includes Riverhead and Southold Towns and is a co-sponsor of the measure, says: “Limiting the amount of plastic making its way into our environment and our food chain is important and prohibiting the use of plastic carry-out bags is a great start. It’s a step numerous communities across the nation have already undertaken.”

The bill itself powerfully describes the impacts of plastic bags.

It declares that “most plastic bags do not biodegrade,” that “over time the bags break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers which eventually contaminate soils and waterways.” Plastic bags, it says, now account “for over 10 percent of debris that washes up on United States coastlines.” And “plastic bags can have a devastating effect on wildlife; birds can become entangled in the bags and different species of sea life can die from ingesting plastic bags which they mistake for food.” Further, “plastic bags are made from polyethylene, a thermoplastic made from oil. Accordingly reducing the use of plastic bags will decrease our dependence on foreign oil.”

As to a claim about recycling pushed by the plastics industry, the bill states that “less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled, in part due to the fact that it costs more to recycle a bag than to produce a new one.”

The measure provides several exemptions. It would just apply to bags that are less than 2.25 mils thick, which it describes as “carryout” bags. It would not apply to thicker plastic bags or “a garment bag…used to transport clothing from a clothing retailer or garment cleaner such as a dry cleaner” or “a bag provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs.”

Also, it would only take effect a year after being approved during which there would be an educational program. “We want to ensure customers and retailers will have a successful transition and are fully aware of the alternatives,” says Dr. Spencer. The campaign will also highlight the pivotal role the public will play in reversing the detrimental effects these plastic bags have had on our planet.”

Among the environmental organizations seeking passage of the measure is Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Its executive director, Adrienne Esposito, cites a “survey of over 650 Suffolk residents” which it conducted that found widespread support. “The time has come to simply ban them and practice BYOB—Bring Your Own Bag,” she says.

I live in Southampton Town where ever since last year there’s been a ban on single-use plastic bags—and it works fine. The adjustment is small. And the stakes—cutting back on this enormous form of toxic debris—are high. Then Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst emphasized when the town passed its law that this should be a regional effort. That time has now come. Earth Day is April 22. This bill’s passage would be a good way for Suffolk to recognize Earth Day.

Karl Grossman is a veteran investigative reporter and columnist, the winner of numerous awards for his work and a member of the L.I. Journalism Hall of Fame. He is a professor of journalism at SUNY/College at Old Westbury and the author of six books. Grossman and his wife Janet live in Sag Harbor.

Suffolk Closeup is a syndicated opinion column on issues of concern to Suffolk County residents.