Long Island's East End towns are moving closer to a regional ban on plastic checkout bags, with two towns trying to prohibit them in stores starting on Earth Day 2015 and three more weighing the idea.
The thin, single-use plastic bags linger in landfills and oceans for centuries and can kill whales and other animals that ingest them, advocates of the ban say.
Newsday reported in July that Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst was lobbying for a ban there and in East Hampton, Riverhead, Southold and Shelter Island towns, and possibly across Suffolk County.
"The more municipalities and wider geographic area that institutes the ban, the more effective it will be," she said in an interview Thursday.
Southampton's town board plans to vote Tuesday to set a Nov. 25 public hearing on the proposed law, said Throne-Holst, who wants the policy to take effect April 22 -- Earth Day.
East Hampton's town board voted 4-0 on Tuesday to schedule a hearing for Nov. 20.
Environmentalists, who say the bags are pervasive sources of litter and pollution, are hoping to build on victories in the villages of Southampton and East Hampton, where officials banned the bags in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Dieter von Lehsten, co-chairman of the Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee, last week called the prospect of a five-town ban "very positive."
"For the first time, we are going to get two towns, at a minimum, to vote for the ban on the East End," he said. "It will put pressure on everybody else, meaning Southold, Shelter Island and Riverhead."
But the ban faces a hurdle in Riverhead, where town board members were split on the idea after discussing it Thursday.
Supervisor Sean Walter said in an interview that banning plastic shopping bags is an issue the state or county, not the towns, should handle. He added that it could spark lawsuits from retailers that could strain his town's budget.
"We are the shopping hub for all of eastern Long Island and eastern Brookhaven," Walter said. "We're also probably the poorest town on the East End in terms of resources and budget."
Other Riverhead Town Board members said in interviews that they support holding a public hearing on the ban.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said last week that his town board's decision hinges on what happens in neighboring Riverhead, which he said is home to big-box stores that compete with Southold's grocers.
Russell also said his town board may vote on an upcoming bill urging Suffolk to pass a ban.
Shelter Island Town Supervisor Jim Dougherty said last week that a town-appointed committee is still "very actively" weighing the idea of banning plastic bags.
Mayors in Sag Harbor, Sagaponack, North Haven, Quogue and West Hampton Dunes -- representing half the East End's incorporated villages -- said last Tuesday in a joint statement that their boards would also consider banning plastic bags.