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Survey shows big switch to reusable bags in Suffolk County

A 5-cent fee on plastic bags was inposed by the county on Jan. 1 of this year.

A woman loads her car with groceries from

A woman loads her car with groceries from the Stop and Shop in Riverhead in this file photo from Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Suffolk’s grocery shoppers largely flipped to reusable bags after a 5-cent fee on plastic bags began Jan. 1, a new survey showed on Thursday.

This April, 43 percent of the 6,000 people surveyed said they used reusable bags versus 5 percent in November and December of last year, said the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Only 30 percent used plastic in April, versus 71 percent last year, Adrienne Esposito, the advocacy group’s executive director, told the county legislature health committee.

“We really feel this is a huge success; the public behavior is changing,” she said.

About 21 percent used no bags in April, little changed, while 5 percent used a combination versus 2 percent last year. Only half a percent used paper in April versus 1 percent last year.

“Wow, what a special Earth Day treat to hear something that substantive,” said Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport).

He said he believed allowing the stores to keep the revenue — a necessity because Suffolk lacked the authority to collect it — was so unpopular that it spurred shoppers to quit using plastic.

The two surveys are not directly comparable. Last year’s — which will be repeated this December — polled 20,000 shoppers and included 7-Eleven stores.

Esposito said new priorities for her group are regulating plastic straws and utensils. Billions of straws pollute oceans every year and they cannot be recycled; utensils are difficult to recycle.

Spencer said banning straws was “a real possibility” in the future, noting the plastic-bag fee took years.

Environmentalists recommend metal straws.

Also addressing the problem of plastic pollution before the legislators was Rebecca Grella, science research director at Brentwood High School. She stressed the hazards and prevalence of plastic microfibers in fabrics, which enter water systems when fleeces and workout clothes are washed.

One mile of shoreline at Old Field’s Flax Pond has about 400 pounds of the tiny plastics, she said.

Shellfish ingest them, imperiling people who eat the shellfish.

In addition, microfibers “clog” shellfish, Grella said, preventing them from cleansing the waters, producing more fish-killing algae blooms.

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