By Jano Tantongco
To Suffolk Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport), his proposal to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in stores across the county is “almost a no brainer.”
After a public hearing on the proposal held last week, Spencer and the rest of the Suffolk Legislature learned that many members of the public feel the same way.
More than 50 people spoke in favor of the ban during the four-and-a-half hour hearing. Spencer, lead sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday that this one was one of the longest hearings in the county's history.
“This is something the majority of the business community and our constituents support,” Spencer said.
Linda Henninger, vice president of the Kings Park Civic Association, one of the speakers during the hearing, “unreservedly” agreed with Spencer’s proposal.
“Our highways and streets are littered with these bags,” said Henninger, who spoke on behalf of the association. “Tens of thousands of whales, birds, seals and turtles are killed every year from the plastic bag litter in the marine environment.”
There were five people who spoke against the proposed ban, including Jon Greenfield, owner of Greenfield’s ShopRite in Commack.
Greenfield said he opposes the ban because the use paper bags at the same rate as plastic bags would reap heavy environmental tolls.
“This law falls into the category of what I would call the law of unintended consequences,” he said. “In one year, in one store, just my Commack store, the shift from plastic to paper would result... in five trailers-35 trailers a year spewing diesel fumes into the air in Suffolk County.”
Adrienne Esposito, executive director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, refuted Greenfield’s claim. She said the Suffolk’s bill is modeled after California legislation that resulted in “a 25-percent reduction in paper bags.”
“Number one, this bill was wisely crafted to change public behavior. It is not a bill that will increase the use of paper bags,” Esposito said.
Others have also argued that that plastic bags do not constitute a majority of overall litter, but Spencer said plastic bags are particularly “insidious” due to their inability to degrade quickly. Spencer said they can block storm water runoff, and be ingested by wildlife, causing irreparable damage.
“Even though they’re a small percentage, they have a much heavier impact,” said Spencer.
Spencer’s legislation, which was co-sponsored by four other county legislators, would allow 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.
The Suffolk Legislature is expected to vote on the proposal on April 12.