Suffolk retailers clashed with environmentalists at a legislative hearing Wednesday over a bill to ban distribution of single-use plastic bags that would go into effect in 2018, a year later than originally proposed.
Under the measure, retail stores could not provide the thin plastic bags for carryout items. Paper bags could be sold at checkout for 10 cents each and reusable bags could be sold for a minimum of 10 cents. Customers paying with food stamps or using other public assistance would get the paper or reusable bags free.
The bill would go into effect Jan. 1, 2018, compared with a Jan. 1, 2017 start date under a prior proposal by Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport).
The new proposal also would permit distribution of 2-mils thick plastic bags such as those distributed by department stores in an effort to lessen the impact on Melville-based bag manufacturer Poly-Pak Industries, Spencer said.
Spencer said his new bill represented a compromise intended to give consumers time to be educated about switching to reusable bags.
Environmentalists have led a national movement against plastic bags, arguing they account for highly visible litter, are ingested by marine life and increase carbon emissions since they’re made from fossil fuels.
Supporters of Spencer’s bill said it push people to bring reusable bags to stores.
“The bill is crafted to change public behavior,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the nonprofit environmental group Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We can’t just change public behavior by education.”
Grocery store owners and convenience store representatives urged lawmakers to instead place fees on bags, similar to the five-cent charge the New York City Council passed in May for plastic and paper bags.
“I ask you to take a second look at the New York City bill,” said Jon Greenfield, co-owner of a ShopRite grocery store in Commack and four others in Nassau County.
Jay Peltz, general counsel of the Food Industry Alliance of New York, which represents grocery stores, drugstores and 7-11’s, said bans in other places have led to a surge in paper bag use.
The group did not oppose New York City’s bag fee, which is set to be signed this month by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Spencer said he worried that with a fee, those who could afford it would just pay. “It creates almost a class system,” he said.
Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the minority leader, said he was undecided about Spencer’s bill.
“No one wants to see plastic bags blowing around. But we might see more paper bags,” McCaffrey said.
Spencer said he was “cautiously optimistic” about getting the necessary 10 votes to pass the legislation, which the county legislature is expected to consider on June 21 in Riverhead.
County Executive Steve Bellone has not taken a position on the bill and is still studying the issue, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said.