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Source: Riverhead News-Review

Shoppers, lawmakers offer mixed bag of opinions on 5-cent charge


Posted: September 9, 2016
Originally Published: September 8, 2016

One day after the Suffolk County Legislature adopted a new law requiring retailers to charge shoppers 5 cents for each paper or plastic bag they use, local residents and lawmakers offered up a wide range of thoughts on the bill.

The legislation — which aims to deter single-use bags across the county — was sponsored by Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) after he failed to gain support earlier this year to impose a countywide ban on plastic bags. The ban was favored by environmentalists and some local elected officials, but bag manufacturers and grocery store owners said it would come at the expense of jobs and drive up costs for consumers.

North Fork County Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who has supported a countywide ban on plastic bags, said he voted in favor of the nickel charge for single-use bags, because he believes it will reduce litter.

“The whole point of the fee is to make people think twice about using the bags,” he said. “Everyone is tired of seeing them in the fields and creeks. We can live without them — we didn’t use them for a long time and I think we can do it again.”

If County Executive Steve Bellone approves the legislation, the law will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018. Mr. Bellone did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but his office told Newsday he will likely sign the bill.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said in a statement she believes the law will be effective and noted how Washington D.C. experienced a significant reduction in plastic and paper bag usage after passing a similar law.

“Plastic bags litter communities, kill wildlife and pollute our oceans,” she said. “Plastic bags are a mistake of the past — reusable bags are the solution for our future.”

One of the more controversial aspects of the legislation approved Wednesday is that retailers are allowed to keep the money they collect from the new fee.

Mr. Krupski said the county would need cooperation from the state in order for it to receive the fee instead, adding that he’ll be in contact with state Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) to solicit support.

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter questioned the legality of the county imposing such a fee on stores without collecting the revenue for itself and described the law as “a ludicrous piece of legislation.”

“Giving the money to the stores is just silly — if you’re going to do anything it should go to municipalities for cleaning up of the bags,” he said, adding that he believes the law will have “zero effect” on decreasing single-use bags.

“When you go grocery shopping and get charged 30 cents for bags, you won’t blink an eye,” he said.

Mr. Walter and Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell have said they support a countywide ban because they believe it’s the only equitable approach and would level the playing field for businesses in Suffolk.

On Thursday, Mr. Russell said although believes the best solution is a countywide ban, he said he’s pleased the issue is getting addressed, even if “it might not be the perfect solution.”

“I’m opposed to stores retaining the 5 cents and think the money could be used for better purposes,” Mr. Russell explained, “but I also recognize the necessity of trying to get more players on board.”

Some shoppers said Thursday they believe the nickel charge for bags is a good way to remind people to use their reusable bags.

Laquetta Goodwin of Riverhead, who was out shopping Thursday with her friend Janet Reed at the Gala Fresh supermarket on Route 58, said she recently purchased reusable grocery bags, but did not bring them with her this time.

“Everything adds up,” she said about being charged 5 cents per bag.

Catherine Hart, who was loading up her car with groceries in reusable bags after shopping at the Mattituck Marketplace Thursday, said she stopped using plastic bags for environmental reasons.

“I think it’s a good thing,” she said of the new fee, adding that she hopes it will encourage other shoppers to use reusable bags.

“I see plastic bags blowing across roads and driveways and in the water,” she said.

Sarah Phillips, president of the Greenport Business Improvement District, said although she wasn’t prepared to speak on behalf of the BID about the new law Thursday since her membership hadn’t met to discuss it yet, she believes the tax on plastic bags is a step in a positive direction.

“Overall, the ‘canvas bag movement’ is something that is encouraged, especially on the North Fork,” she said.

When reached for comment about the new law, King Kullen senior vice president Joseph Brown said in a statement his company has offered its customers reusable bags for more than ten years and anticipates “greater demand in light of the new Suffolk bill.”

“However, we will continue to offer plastic and paper grocery bags as well, leaving all options available to our customers,” he said.

Charles Reichert, who owns the Southold and Greenport IGA, declined comment Thursday, but in the past he’s expressed support for a countywide ban.

The law will be enforced by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services and violators will face a fine of $500 per offense, according to the bill.

The Legislature also approved the creation of a committee to determine the law’s success by finding out if more people are taking reusable bags with them when they shop.

If the use of plastic bags isn’t reduced by at least 75 percent in three years, then the “idea of an outright ban can be revisited at a later date,” according to the legislation.

The Legislature approved the measure by a 13-4 vote, with legislators Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai), Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset), Lou D’Amaro (D-North Babylon) and Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) casting dissenting votes.

Legislator Bill Lindsay (D-Bohemia) was absent.