Plastic bag fee now in effect
Paper or plastic?
Regardless, it’ll now cost you a nickel per bag at the supermarket. The new BYOB — bring your own bag — law went into effect Jan. 1.
The measure was put forth in the Legislature in September 2016, sponsored by Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport). It passed in a 13-4 vote, with two Republicans and two Democrats voting against the bill, citing the high cost of living. The five-cent fee would be kept by retailers.
Last month, environmental watchdogs with Citizens Campaign for the Environment announced survey results that show most county residents — over 70 percent — still use the plastic bags.
Students from Northport, Brentwood, Huntington, Smithtown, East Islip and North Babylon high schools, as well as St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue, surveyed 11,395 shoppers at eight locations in November and December.
The data also showed 5 percent of individuals already use reusable bags, and that more people — 6.4 percent— bring their reusable bags on weekends compared to weekdays, with just 4.65 percent of shoppers bringing their own. Data collected also shows that women are twice as likely as men to bring their own shopping bags.
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of CCE, said that the survey will be replicated in a year to analyze the effects of the five-cent fee on consumer behavior.
The law marks a countywide attempt to cut down on pollution, as the plastic bags often end up along roadways or in landfills. An original version of the bill would have banned plastic bag use and required a 10-cent fee, but the legislature backed off after local retailers spoke up.
Stores that violate the law will be subject to a fine of $500. The new fee will apply to all convenience, grocery, liquor, office supply, clothing and home stores, but not fast-food establishments, delis or restaurants. Shoppers will not be charged the fee for using small, plastic film bags at supermarkets for their produce, meats and fish.
Similar measures in Suffolk failed in 2008 and 2011. Now, Suffolk is the first county outside of New York City to pass a bring-your-own-bag-type law, which more communities are looking into.
The fee will be no sweat to shoppers in Patchogue. In 2016, the village banned single-use, non-recyclable plastic bags after approving the measure in a 2015 split-vote. Trustee Joe Keyes, who proposed the measure, is happy to see the county taking a step in this direction. “I would have preferred an outright ban, but I think we got the best we could out of it,” he said. He said he proposed the ban after becoming frustrated with seeing the bags littered across the village. “[The bags] are an environmental nuisance. They don’t get recycled, and it becomes a quality-of-life issue,” Keyes said in a phone interview last week. “It adds debris and trash in the neighborhood and they are a hazard to any form of marine life. We’re a waterfront community, so those things should be front-and-center,” he said.
Keyes also said that he thinks the ban has been well received in Patchogue. To help residents adjust as the ban went into effect last year, village residents each received a blue reusable bag that bears that village seal and slogan, “We Bag to Differ.”
“Unfortunately, we are noticing that there are some merchants that we still have to swing into compliance,” Keyes said, noting that they would begin issuing summonses. “But we haven’t had too much negative feedback.”
Others municipalities, including Southampton and East Hampton towns and the Village of Southampton, have all banned plastic bags.
John Turner of the Seatuck Environmental Association hopes the fee will serve as an incentive to residents to bring their own bags. “As a result, we can expect cleaner parks, roadsides and coastlines, with both us and the wildlife species that share the island and the coastal waters surrounding it, being better off,” Turner said.
Esposito hopes implementing the fee will help kick-start a collective New Year’s Resolution. “Throw-away bags are not free,” she said. “They pollute beaches, parks, clog infrastructure and kill marine and bird life. Making the switch to reusable bags is an easy way to protect our environment, carry our purchases, and avoid a nickel fee. Let’s all make a New Year’s resolution to BYOB — bring our own bags — to the store,” Esposito added.
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