Suffolk County legislators introduced a bill Tuesday that would ban stores in the county from handing out single-use plastic bags.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), said the bags are a source of pollution along highways and in waterways where they can harm marine life.
“It’s a concept whose time has come,” Spencer said.
Under the law, retail stores could not provide the thin single-use plastic bags for carryout items. Paper bags could be sold at checkouts 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.
Plastic bag manufacturers have opposed similar bans around the country, saying most bags are reused by customers and that bag manufacturing accounts for thousands of jobs.
While Spencer is expecting bipartisan support, there is also resistance within the Democratic caucus, which dominates the Legislature.
Legis. Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue), the deputy presiding officer, said most homeowners reuse the bags to line garbage cans or for other purposes. “I’m worried about the middle class and low-income folks who’ll have to now buy bags,” he said.
Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) said the bill would be another burden on businesses, who would pass on costs to customers “who are tired of being nickel-and-dimed to death.”
The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a subsidiary of the Plastics Industry Trade Association, said in a statement: “It makes no sense to ban an incredibly useful, reusable, and 100-percent recyclable product that supports more than 24,000 jobs nationwide.”
Suffolk would be the 12th local government in New York to ban the plastic bags, the county said. Southampton and East Hampton towns passed bans in late 2014. Patchogue Village banned the bags last year.
Suffolk County would also be the first county and largest municipality in New York to ban single-use bags, although New York City is also considering a ban, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
She said the bags take decades to decompose and can’t be added into most curbside recycling because they get stuck in sorting machines.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said he was leaning toward supporting the ban, though he had concerns about the mandatory price for paper bags. “I hate seeing the bags when I’m fishing; I hate seeing them on the side of the road,” he said.
The bill was introduced Tuesday. Spencer said he expects a public hearing in April.
The law would be enforced by the county Health Department, which would impose fines of $500 if stores are still providing the bags.
County Executive Steve Bellone has no position on the issue yet.