Carol Kolakowski of Melville, being rung up by cashier Staci Snowden...

Carol Kolakowski of Melville, being rung up by cashier Staci Snowden at Uncle Giuseppe's Marketplace in Melville on Wednesday, holds a reusable grocery bag . Credit: Barry Sloan

Jerome Gallagher's purchases, including butter and chocolate chips for his wife's Christmas cookie baking, were placed in four plastic bags at Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace in Melville on Wednesday.

He forgot to bring his reusable bags, but he didn't mind paying 20 cents for the single-use bags, said the Melville resident, 78.

“With all that’s going in the world, with the wars and things, on a scale of 1 to 10 . . . plastic bags are a minus  -1,” he said.

When Suffolk County’s law charging consumers for single-use plastic and paper carryout bags — 5 cents each — went into effect Jan. 1, it drew the ire of some shoppers who described it as an unwarranted tax.

Nearly a year later, the legislation is working as planned, said retailers, which reported a steep decline in the number of single-use bags used by customers.

A survey of Suffolk grocery stores that are members of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State showed an 80 percent decline in the distribution of single-use bags in the first and second quarters of 2018, said Jay Peltz, general counsel and senior vice president of government relations for the alliance, a trade group.

Suffolk's bag-fee law is intended to increase the utilization of reusable bags and reduce the number of single-use plastic bags polluting waterways.

“Usually with change, it takes a long time to see big results. So I found this result shocking to hear: 80 percent” fewer plastic bags are being used, said Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who sponsored the bill.

Single-use plastic and paper bag use has declined about 40 percent at Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace's three grocery stores in Suffolk — in Melville, Port Jefferson Station and Smithtown — this year compared to the same period in 2017, while those locations’ sales of reusable bags are up more than 100 percent, said Carl Delprete, owner and chief executive of the Farmingdale-based chain.

“We, as a company, use millions of bags during the year, so a 40 percent reduction in just those three stores is significant,” he said.

Most customers at Stew Leonard's Suffolk store in Farmingdale bring reusable bags with them now, said Dan Arthur, president of the Norwalk, Connecticut-based grocery chain's two Long Island stores.

“The Farmingdale store experienced a 42 percent decline in bag usage, compared to the previous year. Reduced bag costs have allowed us to increase the number of sale items benefiting our customers,” said Joe Vota, sales director for the chain.

King Kullen Grocery Co., which has 19 King Kullen locations and four Wild by Nature stores in Suffolk County, has seen a 78 percent decline in single-use bags this year, said Joseph Brown, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer at the Bethpage-based retailer.

Suffolk County does not receive any portion of the bag fees.

Uncle Giuseppe’s directed the fees it collected to its charitable fund, which, combined with the grocer's match on a portion of customer contributions, allocated $100,000 to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital this year, Delprete said.

King Kullen also allocated its collected fees to its charitable giving program, Brown said.

In Nassau County, an attempt to create a similar bag fee has been unsuccessful. Nassau Legis. Debra Mulé (D-Freeport) sponsored a bag-fee bill in May that has stalled. Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park), presiding officer of the Nassau Legislature, has criticized the proposal as “a burden on taxpayers.”  The GOP majority had no plans to schedule a public hearing or bring a bill to committee, he said.

The fee is an effective means of changing public behavior, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, an advocacy group based in Farmingdale.

“A tax is unavoidable. The nickel fee is avoidable. Just bring your own bag,” she said.

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