Suffolk County Reduces Plastic Bag Use By 1.1 Billion Bags


One year after Suffolk County imposed a 5-cent fee on single use plastic bags, usage has been drastically reduced. Do you use them less now?

By Lisa Finn, Patch Staff | Mar 21, 2019 7:52 pm ET

(Adrienne Esposito.)

SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — One year after Suffolk County imposed a 5-cent fee on single use plastic and paper bags, government officials, environmentalists and others gathered for the unveiling of a report that indicates a drastic reduction — to the tune of 1.1 billion less — in the use of plastic bags.

Suffolk County Legislator William R. Spencer, local leaders and the Department of Health Services, evaluating the progress of the county's carryout bag law, said on Thursday that the findings, which include three sets of data, "indicate significant success in the county's effort to reduce the consumption and waste of single-use bags."

The report, measuring shoppers' bag choices, beach clean-up statistics and bag purchases by retailers before and after the implementation of the policy, "is an undertaking unique to Suffolk County. Such an extensive study has not been conducted in any other municipality throughout the country," organizers of the event said.

At the event, held at the Suffolk County Legislature building in Hauppauge, statistics on the sharp reduction in plastic bag use were revealed.

"Today we announced an historic accomplishment — Suffolk County reduced our plastic bag use by 1.1 billion bags last year," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "The legislation enacting a nickel fee changed public behavior in three ways — more people are bringing reusable bags to stores, more people are not using any bags, and those that are still using plastic bags are using much less. Our reports reveals an 80% reduction in plastic bag use in 2018 from 2017. Now, that's progress!"

According to data compiled, Esposito said, in 2017, the number of individuals using reusable bags was 5%; in 2018 it was 26%. In 2017, the number of people not taking any plastic bags was 20%, compared to 37% in 2018. And, while in 2017 the number of people using plastic bags was 71%, in 2018 it was 28%.

According to the "Annual Recycling Report, Progress of Single-Use Carryout Bag Reduction," on Jan. 1, 2018, the Suffolk County law requiring stores to charge a minimum of 5 cents for carryout bags took effect.

The 5 & 5 Education and Effectiveness Working Group, established by the Suffolk County Legislature to analyze the impact of the law, conducted a study to better understand bag usage behavior before and after implementation of the law, the report said.

"Teams were deployed to a supermarket, a pharmacy and a convenience store," in Suffolk County towns, the report said.

The teams were stationed outside of the establishments and the number of individuals using plastic, paper and/or reusable bags were counted. Hash marks were tallied as individuals were observed carrying products out of the stores, the report said.

In addition, data was collected at each location on one weekday night and one weekend day prior to implementation of the law, in November through December of 2017; and after implementation of the law, in November and December of 2018. Approximately 3,000 customers were observed in each study period; the study showed that use of reusable bags or no bags increased from 27.8% prior to implementation of the law to 60.1% after implementation of the law.

The data indicates that 32.3% of shoppers observed in our study have changed their behavior since implementation of the law and are now using reusable bags or no bags, the report said.

And the results have already been seen on cleaner shorelines.

The American Littoral Society*, northeast chapter, reported a 41.8% decrease in plastic bags, grocery and other combined, and a 41% decrease in paper bags collected from Suffolk County shorelines during volunteer cleanups in 2018 when compared with 2017.

The report also indicated that although the number of plastic and paper carryout bags collected was significantly lower, the number of volunteers participating in cleanups almost doubled in 2018 and the overall amount of debris collected in 2018 was significantly higher in 2018 than in 2017, the report said.

"Today's report shows that Suffolk County has achieved a drastic reduction in the scourge of plastic pollution, while at the same time reducing the use of paper bags by almost 80%," said Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming. "It's an exciting turnaround. Our economy depends on how well we care for our environment, and this is great news on that score. Everyone involved should be very proud of the example we are setting for our region, the country — and the world.”