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Letter: Lots to consider in NY State's new plastic-bag ban

Reader letters to Newsday for Sunday, April 7, 2019.

A customer uses paper bags while checking out

A customer uses paper bags while checking out at the East Hampton IGA grocery store in East Hampton. East Hampton Town has passed restrictions on using plastic bags for groceries. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

While I applaud Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for making a ban on single-use checkout bags a priority in the state budget, the outcome was an odd and disappointing mix of a plastic-bag ban and an optional fee on paper bags.

Why an optional fee on paper? The 2017 New York State Plastic Bag Task Force Report said that, due to “the increased energy required for both the production and transportation of paper bags, they have been found to have a greater carbon footprint than single-use plastic bags.” In addition, paper does not biodegrade in landfills because of a lack of water, air and light, according to the Environmental Literacy Council, an independent nonprofit organization in Washington.

If counties don’t adopt the fee, what will motivate people to bring their own bags to stores if paper bags are free? Counties will be substituting one environmental problem with another.

We’ve seen in Suffolk County, Long Beach and other places that fees on both paper and plastic bags prevent pollution. However, the governor only went halfway, punting the decision on paper bags to counties. The environment will again pay the price.

Karin Johnson,

  Rockville Centre

Editor’s note: The writer is a member of Volunteer All Our Energy, an advocacy organization.

While the state law banning single-use plastic bags is well-intentioned, lawmakers have not considered the consequences.

I’ve been using reusable shopping bags for many years, but I always used disposable bags for items like meat and dairy that can carry bacteria that can contaminate my bag for the next use, especially in hot weather.

Suffolk County’s bag law made sense: a 5-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags. I’m happy to pay 25 cents for a few plastic bags to prevent cross-contamination of some groceries, while I carry the rest in reusable bags. The 25 cents is certainly less than my co-pay should someone in my family get food poisoning from contaminated reuseable bags. The first time there is an outbreak of food poisoning due to a contaminated reuseable bag, there will be an outcry to roll back the plastic bag ban.

I suggest that state legislators update this law to be more in line with Suffolk County’s well-thought-out law. The 5-cent fee discourages people from using the disposable bags, but allows people to use (and pay for) disposable bags when needed.

Mary Connor,

  South Setauket

I hate seeing plastic bags in trees, landscapes, lakes, etc., but I believe the problem isn’t being framed and argued correctly. The key is getting them underground and keeping them out of the trees, etc.

The Environmental Literacy Council, independent nonprofit organization, says that, “Although plastics do not biodegrade, modern landfills are designed in such a way that nothing biodegrades.” So bags put into landfills would seem to become inert.

One small step could go a long way to controlling plastic bags. After you use one, tie it into a knot before throwing it away. It will not make it into waterways, etc. It could go into a landfill without causing a problem.

John Weishahn,

  Islip

Legislature Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello said the option of a 5-cent fee on paper bags is “dead on arrival” in Nassau County [“GOP leader: No paper bag fee in Nassau,” News, April 4]. He said Republicans don’t want to nickel-and-dime overburdened taxpayers.

However, these initiatives are necessary for the environment and our future. They encourage the “reduce, reuse, recycle” motto and can provide funds for environmental protection.

Nicoello and his Republican colleagues infamously raised millions of dollars by imposing fees from red-light cameras, school speed cameras (later abandoned), real estate transactions and small-business fees under Edward Mangano’s corrupt leadership. I believe Nicolello is a hypocrite.

Matthew Pangburn,

  North Bellmore

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