Southampton and East Hampton have become the first towns on Long Island to ban plastic checkout bags, following a campaign by East End environmental activists.
Southampton's ban passed with a 3-2 vote by the town board on Thursday afternoon, and it will go into effect in stores on April 22, which is Earth Day.
East Hampton's ban passed the same day, and will go into effect on Sept. 22 to give retailers time to switch to alternative bags, town officials said.
The ban targets the thin plastic bags typically used in supermarket checkout lanes. Advocates of the ban say the bags are common sources of litter, contribute to massive islands of garbage in the oceans, and can kill marine animals and birds that ingest them.
Plastic bags thicker than 2.25 mils will still be permitted.
"I think East Hampton and Southampton are making a statement that single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment, and at the same time I call on the county and the state to ban single-use plastic bags," East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Friday.
Southampton and East Hampton join dozens of municipalities across the country -- and the state of California -- in banning plastic bags from stores. Southampton and East Hampton villages, located within their respective towns, banned the bags in 2011.
"The implications of this are huge," Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said before her board's vote Thursday. "The fact of the matter is that in the United States of America, we're woefully behind on this issue."
Councilwoman Christine Scalera, one of two board members to vote against the ban, called the action an example of "overreaching government and nothing more than a political agenda item," and said an education campaign aimed at getting residents of the town to voluntarily carry reusable bags has been successful.
"Education without prohibition does work, it just has to be done right, as we have done here in the Town of Southampton," she said.
Throne-Holst lobbied this year for a ban across all five East End towns and possibly Suffolk County. Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island officials said this summer that their town boards were considering bans, but they have not moved forward.
On Friday, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said his town board would not introduce a ban, but he supported action at the county or state level.
"We support a regional approach, but one town at a time won't work for Southold, where small businesses can't compete with corporate giants up west."