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May 21, 2018 9:45 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Governor Proposes State-Wide Plastic Bag Ban As Suffolk County Shoppers Adjust To Five-Cent Bag Fee

Edna Trunzo, left, putting her groceries in a reusable shopping bag at the East Hampton IGA. KYRIL BROMLEY
May 22, 2018 1:10 PM

Shoppers throughout Suffolk County have been slowly but surely switching from plastic and paper bags to reusable bags when buying groceries and gifts—and there soon may be one final push to do away with environmentally harmful bags forever, if Governor Andrew Cuomo has his way.

Last month, the governor proposed legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags in retail stores in the entire state. According to the bill, the ban would not apply to plastic bags used to wrap uncooked meat, fish, poultry, fruits and vegetables, or garment bags, trash bags and plastic bags used by restaurants for takeout food.

The governor’s announcement came only about four months after Suffolk County instituted a new law requiring retail shops to charge five cents for each single-use plastic or paper bag, an effort to encourage shoppers to buy and use reusable bags instead of paper or plastic bags.

“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,” Mr. Cuomo said in the official announcement. “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.”

If passed, the ban would supersede any previously established laws regarding plastic bags throughout the state. This would not only include the Suffolk County law, but also plastic bag bans enacted in 2011 by Southampton and East Hampton villages and in 2014 by both East Hampton and Southampton towns. The villages of Quogue, Sagaponack and Sag Harbor implemented their own plastic bag laws in 2015.

Mr. Cuomo’s actions might be surprising to some, since he blocked a law in February 2017 similar to the Suffolk County law, which would have required a five-cent fee for plastic bags distributed in stores in New York City. Instead, he launched the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force in March 2017, headed by State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos.

“From Buffalo to the Adirondack Park, and from the Catskills to the Long Island Sound, plastic bag waste is degrading our natural resources and forcing municipalities to spend precious resources to address it,” Mr. Seggos said in the announcement.

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who supported the county law, said on April 30 that it was “very exciting” to hear about the possibility of the proposed state law, and that she was working with County Legislator William Spencer to “encourage” adding an incentive to the governor’s bill to ban all single-use bags including paper bags, which are not included in the governor’s proposed bill.

While the governor’s bill would effectively prevent retailers from collecting a five-cent fee for plastic bags, Ms. Fleming said she hoped that the state law would allow the fees to remain but to be allocated instead to environmental initiatives, instead of merely kept by the retailers. “I think there are retailers who are looking to put that money into environmental initiatives,” she said. “I think the market would adjust.”

State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said this month that if Mr. Cuomo’s proposed law is passed, then county legislators may want to “revise” the five-cent law regarding paper bags. As it stands, the proposed law would have no effect on the five-cent fee required for paper bags, though the law’s passage would be a “change in circumstance,” as Mr. Thiele said, that could be addressed.

Though the county law has certainly been an adjustment, it’s been one that local retailers throughout the East End have settled into. A manager at the CVS on Pantigo Road in East Hampton, who only wished to be referred to as Brett, said consumers react in a number of ways to the five-cent fee.

“Some customers come in and say, ‘Really? I gotta pay five cents?’ and they usually come from New York City or out of the country,” he said. “Local customers understand the fee, more or less. It’s usually the visitors who are bothered by it.”

Gwen Waddington of The Wharf Shop in Sag Harbor said that her shop had been offering customers thicker plastic bags that were exempt from the local plastic bag law when that was the prevailing restriction, but is now charging customers for both paper and plastic bags as dictated by the county law. However, she noticed that “25 percent” of the store’s recent customers have been bringing their own bags to shop for the store’s selection of children’s toys and greeting cards.

Before the county imposed the five-cent fee for single-use bags, “the perception was ‘I need a bag, because if I don’t have one, people might think I shoplifted with all these items,’” Ms. Waddington said. “That’s no longer the perception.

“We have a separate key on our cash register for bags so we can see how many we are giving out every day,” Ms. Waddington said. “People are refusing bags and so the fee, which is to discourage people from taking unnecessary packaging and creating less waste, is working.”

Margaret Donohoe, manager of Flying Point Surf Shop on Hill Street in Southampton, said that asking customers for the five cents in order to use bags to carry-out purchases leads them to reject bags entirely. This creates some confusion for her and her employees in the store since many customers will still walk around store browsing while carrying already-purchased products.

“So then we have people walking around the store with loose products and its hard to tell if they’re already purchased or not,” Ms. Donohoe said. “When summer comes, it’s not going to be easy to differentiate with all the new customers in-store.”

Or Raitses, vice president of Best Yet Market in Westhampton Beach, said that he and his staff would “comply with whatever law comes down” from the state. Best Yet Market has been offering reusable bags that are made of, as Mr. Raitses said, “weaved, very durable” material. The bags have become so popular that Mr. Raitses said that the market is getting a new shipment before Memorial Day, the previous stock having been “wiped out.”

“I think that it was a learning curve for customers,” Mr. Raitses said. “At first, a lot of people weren’t happy about it. Now they’re prepared.”

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It's so nice seeing people and embracing change and walking into the grocery store with their own re-usable bags under their arms. Seems like only yesterday they were whining and complaining and protesting.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on May 22, 18 4:18 PM
Why are you people carrying arm fills of groceries to the car!?

You just spent 40% more for groceries than the rest of America. The bag is a nickel?
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on May 23, 18 6:09 AM
1 member liked this comment
Reusable bags at the grocery store are fine. But it’s ridiculous to have to have 15 different types of reusable bags cluttering up your car because now you need some for the groceries, one for clothing stores, one for hardware store, one for office supply store, one for CVS, one for pet food store... unless you don’t mind putting your raw chicken in the same bag as your lawn pesticide or your new shirt in the same bag as the cat litter.
By localEH (427), East Hampton on May 23, 18 9:08 AM
YES, the 5 cent surcharge for a plastic bag might make sense to some, especially those who are of recent European decent. However, plastic bags are recyclable and the nickel doesn't go into anything useful. It goes into the pockets of the stores. The bag cost a fraction of a cent. This is a massive windfall profit for store owners and does NOTHING TO IMPROVE THE ENVIRONMENT!
If you're going to impose a fee on plastic gags, the money should go to environmental concerns and not the merchant's ...more
By jediscuba (71), Suthampton on May 24, 18 12:10 PM
I don't understand why you are charged for paper bags. Paper breaks down, unlike plastic. You green ahols can't have your cake and eat it to. Reusable bags are impractical when you shop for a week of groceries. I would need at least 20 bags. never paid for paper bags before plastic was in use, why pay for it now. maybe we should shop only in communities that are customer friendly. Even the governor knows plastic bags, not paper are the problem.
By Walt (292), Southampton on May 24, 18 10:14 PM