In an effort to “combat litter, help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment for future generations,” Rockland County s banning single-use plastic bags at retailers, restaurants and grocery stores.
In a bipartisan 14-3 vote, legislators in Rockland easily backed a measure that would ban the use of bags. The bill was sponsored by County legislators Laurie Santulli and Nancy Low-Hogan and will be sent to County Executive Ed Day for approval in the next three weeks.
"Plastic bags not only make Rockland County look terrible, they cause problems for our solid waste facility and pose a significant threat to the environment," Santulli said. "A simple change in our habits – switching to paper and reusable bags, will help us address these problems for the betterment of our county."
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, single-use plastic bags are one of the top five single-use plastics found in the environment by magnitude, and they are one of the top five items encountered in coastline clean-ups.
Under the law, department stores, home center and hardware stores, drug stores, supermarkets, liquor stores, gas station stores, restaurants, farmers' markets and other locations would be banned from providing single-use plastic carryout bags. They instead would be required to provide paper bags made of recyclable materials or reusable plastic bags with handles that are machine washable.
The law will not ban plastic bags used for loose bulk items such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, candy, cookies, small hardware items or to wrap meats, fish, deli and frozen foods; nor does it ban bags used by pharmacies to contain prescription drugs, newspaper bags, door-hanger bags and laundry-dry cleaning bags.
If approved, the law will be enforced by the Rockland County Office of Consumer Protection. Fines would range from up to $250 for a first-time offense; up to $500 for a second offense within a 12-month period; and up to $1,000 for a third and each subsequent offense within a 12-month period.
"The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment,” New York Gov. Cuomo said last year when supporting a statewide bill banning single-use plastic bags. "As the old proverb goes: 'We did not inherit the earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children,' and with this action, we are helping to leave a stronger, cleaner and greener New York for all.”
Between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled in the United States and they are not acceptable at certain recycling centers.
"Passing the plastic bag ban is an example of what can happen when a community comes together in support of what is best for the whole community, not only in the short term, but in the long term,” Low-Hogan stated. “We are ready to make the choice that will benefit our environment and ultimately our world.”
The EPA estimates that 80 percent of plastic pollution in the ocean originated on land, which includes plastic bags, and in New York, residents use 23 billion plastic bags annually, which contributes to pollution both on and off land. These bags do not biodegrade and they persist for years.
"Plastic pollution has become a serious threat to our lakes, rivers and marine environment as well as public health. Scientists are finding plastic pollution in shellfish and finfish, making its way to our dinner plates,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito said. “Giving up plastic bags and using reusable bags is one easy, reasonable step each member of the public can take to help combat the plastic pollution epidemic. It is time for everyone to get on the plastic bag 'ban wagon.”