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Survey: Just 5 percent of shoppers bring reusable bags

Findings come ahead of 2018 Suffolk law requiring stores charge customers a nickel fee for the use of each plastic and paper bag.

Beginning Jan. 1, Suffolk shoppers will be charged

Beginning Jan. 1, Suffolk shoppers will be charged a nickel fee for each paper or plastic bag they get at checkout. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Stores in Suffolk County will start charging a nickel fee on each plastic and paper bag at checkout starting Jan. 1, but a countywide survey released Monday found only five percent of shoppers bring reusable bags.

The survey in front of grocery stores, convenience stores and a pharmacy found 71 percent of individuals use plastic bags, while the balance use paper, a combination, or no bag. Students from seven school districts and St. Joseph’s College surveyed 11,395 shoppers done in November and December, officials said at the Legislative Building in Hauppauge on Monday.

Of those using reusable bags, 68 percent were female.

The survey will be repeated next year to analyze the effect of the law on consumer behavior, according to Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. She said she hoped 60 to 70 percent of residents next year are bringing reusable bags.

The survey was conducted by students from Northport, Brentwood, Huntington, Smithtown, East Islip, and North Babylon, and was organized by a county-created task force to help educate the public about the bill.

The Suffolk County Legislature passed the bag fee in 2016. Advocates of the fee had complained the thin plastic bags pollute waterways and are ingested by marine life, become roadside litter and are rarely recycled. The aim of the bill is to encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags from home.

“Reducing litter, marine pollution and saving our oceans are worth changing our habits for,” Esposito said.

The five-cent fee will be collected and kept by retailers including grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and other retail outlets. Food establishments, such as restaurants, will be exempt.

Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), the bill’s primary sponsor, said county residents should contact his office for a reusable bag.

“If you need a reusable bag, come see me,” Spencer said, adding he bought 1,000 reusable bags to give away.

The legislation was supported by the Food Industry Alliance, which represents grocery stores and other retailers, Local 338, which represents grocery store workers, and environmentalists.

“This will impact every family, every business in Suffolk. We wanted a broad coalition,” Spencer said.

While plastic bags drew the ire of environmentalists and lawmakers, the law also requires stores to charge for paper bags, as well as thicker “reusable” plastic bags, to prevent stores from circumventing the law, Spencer said.

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), a farmer, said “I’m tired of seeing bags in waterways and I’m tired of picking them up off of fields,” he said.

Other legislators said the fee will add to the already high cost of living.

“This is just another fee to make it harder to live here,” said Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). He predicted that the five cent cost won’t spur residents to change their habits, similar to the five cent fee on bottles and cans.

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