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Source: Newsday

5-Cent Fee On Plastic, Paper Bags In Suffolk County Begins Jan. 1

While many are lauding the rollout of the new legislation, some believe much public education still needs to be done.

BY LISA FINN, PATCH STAFF

Posted: December 28, 2017
Originally Published: December 22, 2017

SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — After years of discussion, a controversial new law is set to take effect in Suffolk County on Jan. 1, charging customers a minimum fee of 5 cents on carryout bags, plastic and paper, that are provided at retail stores.

"The purpose of this law is to encourage consumers to use their own reusable bags for shopping and to reduce the environmental impacts associated with single use bags," a release from Suffolk County said.

Environmentalists, who have long lauded the measure and spoken out about the detrimental impacts of plastic bags to local waterways and wildlife, have been gearing up for the implementation of the new legislation, aimed at reducing plastic bag use.

According to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a survey of consumer shopping habits was conducted by high school students and teachers in advance of Suffolk's Bring Your Own, or BYOB, law implementation on Jan. 1.

Of the 11,395 surveyed, the study showed that 71% of individuals are using throw-away bags, 5% of individuals are using reusable bags, more people bring their reusable bags on the weekend, 6.4%, as compared to the weekdays, when that number is 4.65%, and more woman use reusable bags, with 68% of those bringing their own bags, female, and 32%, men.

Students and teachers joined the Food Industry Alliance, Local 338, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and Suffolk County representatives recently announce the results of their surveys, which demonstrate ongoing and still widespread use of single-use plastic bags in grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores throughout Suffolk County, CCE said.

In addition to the surveys, the Food Industry Alliance, Local 338, and Suffolk County will be launching an educational campaign and unveiling outreach materials for retailers and the public, which explain the Suffolk County BYOBag law and encourage residents to make the switch to reusable bags to avoid a nickel fee.

The county's bill was approved in September 2016 and imposed a 5 cent fee on plastic and paper bags, with an eye toward helping to mitigate impacts of plastics on the environment and to encourage reusable bags.

At the time, Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), said he hoped the bill would lead to a 75 percent reduction of single-use bags within 3 years after seeing the success of municipalities that already have a plastic bag fee.

"This is one fee that is completely avoidable," Spencer said in a statement. "We don't need the plastic bags and you don't need to pay the fee. . . My hope is that we will join together and use reusable bags and give our precious Island a break."

One of the legislators who voted against the bill, Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), told Patch he believes Spencer had good intentions with the bill, but he didn't believe that charging people was the answer.

Trotta, who described himself as the biggest environmentalist in the Suffolk County Legislature, said he didnt believe the 5 cent charge on plastic bags will make much of a difference. "If you really wanted to [prevent pollution of plastic bags,] ban it outright," he said. "[The bill] is going to do very little for the environment."

A plastic bag ban already exists in Southampton and East Hampton towns, Southampton Village, Quogue, Sagaponack and Patchogue.

The plastic bag ban discussion has sparked public comment in Southold Town in recent years, but Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell has long said a fee for plastic bags in Southold could hurt local businesses, with consumers heading to Riverhead, which had not adopted the ban. Russell has said that Suffolk County should take the lead in the ban, creating a level playing field for all municipalities.

Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said the initiative started as a full ban but not enough support for that to pass was garnered. Many thought New York State would come forward with with a full ban, something that he believes would level the playing field, Krupski said.

"This is to encourage people to use reusable bags," Krupski said.

Similar legislation around the world has seen a reduction of plastic bag use by as much as 85 percent, according to Spencer.

The free plastic bags come at a hidden cost to consumers and taxpayers, Spencer added. Retailers spend $4 billion per year to give out the bags; a cost that is passed on to the consumer in the form of higher prices, he said.

Environmentalists have long maintained that the bags end up as litter in the area's waterways, wreaking havoc on the natural environment, destroying bucolic vistas, and costing taxpayers money and resources for their cleanup and proper disposal.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of CCE, said the reduction of plastic bag use are a win-win. "Plastic bags are a mistake of the past," Esposito said. "Reusable bags are the solution for the future."

Additional reporting by Paige McAtee.