By Jano Tantongco
Suffolk Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) introduced legislation on March 1 intended to ban single-use plastic bags from retail stores in the county.
“It’s killing the planet and it’s killing Suffolk County,” Spencer said. “We don’t need them.”
The proposed legislation would allow for stores to charge 10 cents for recyclable paper bags, and no less than 10 cents for reusable bags. The proposal would specifically ban single-use bags that are less than 2.25 mils thick.
Spencer claimed businesses would also save money from having to purchase the plastic bags, estimating an $18 million in savings for the county.
“We want the behavior to change,” he said. “I do think this is responsible government.”
A public hearing on the bill has been scheduled for March 22.
If passed, violators would be charged with a $500 civil fine. The law would be enforced by Suffolk’s Department of Health Services. If approved, the law would go into effect a year later.
Michael Zoitas, owner of Southdown Marketplace in Huntington and Northport, said Monday that the proposed legislation is a step in the right direction.
“I think it’s a good idea. I know in California they’ve implemented it with success,” Zoitas said. “I think it’s a matter of habit. They [customers] are used to having a plastic bag.”
Zoitas added that his stores already offer reusable bags for 90 cents. Over the years, he said he’s noticed an “exponential” uptick in customers using reusable bags.
“It’s cool to see that everyone’s just a bit more mindful,” he added.
Spencer said that a single plastic bag is used for an average of 12 minutes, after which they can remain in the environment for thousands of years. Spencer added that if mammals or fish ingest the bags, that can prevent them from absorbing food or can suffocate them.The bags can then go on to adversely affect more wildlife since they do not easily break down in the environment.
Spencer also cited a survey conducted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment that found 80 percent of 650 Suffolk residents who participated would support a ban or a fee on the use of plastic bags.
In a statement, Adrienne Esposito, CCE executive director, said “Plastic bags pollute our beaches, bays, roadways, parks and neighborhoods. They kill thousands of marine mammals and shore birds every year. Last year, 10,500 plastic bags were removed from the south shore estuary by volunteers. The answer to this ubiquitous pollution plague is simple, ban the bag.”