Suffolk County lawmakers approved a 5-cent fee on single-use paper and plastic bags in a measure intended to encourage the use of reusable bags when shoppers make purchases at local stores.
Legislators passed the bill Wednesday by a vote of 13-4 and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signaled his intent to sign the bill into law. Retailers that fail to collect the nickel would be subject to a $500 fine, once the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.
“I was shocked to see how truly this issue goes to the heart of who we are as Long Islanders,” said Legis. Dr. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who authored the bill. “[Plastic bags] fly all over the place, they get into our fences, they get into our streams, they get into our trees, they block our storm weather drains, they lead to local flooding.”
The bill is similar to a law enacted in New York City, and like-minded proposals are being debated in municipalities nationwide. Proponents said such measures have significantly reduced the use of single-use bags in California, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, in some cases by up to 90 percent.
The legislature also approved a companion bill that aims to educate residents and businesses on switching to reusable bags when the fee goes into effect in 16 months. It also creates a task force to evaluate the fee’s effectiveness.
Lawmakers who voted against the bill cited the added increase to the already high cost of living on Long Island, especially for those on fixed incomes. One lawmaker said that although the bill was not perfect, he voted for it anyway.
“We should keep the fee,” said Legis. Tom Barraga (R-West Islip), noting that retailers get the revenue generated but the county could use the money.
Spencer, who noted that the county would need New York State approval to keep the fee, signaled that he would lobby the state legislature for that authorization.
“Single-use bags were never free,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “Consumers pay for these bags in the price of our groceries, and municipalities are saddled with the cost of cleaning up and landfilling plastic bags. There is a real environmental cost as well. Plastic bags litter communities, kill wildlife and pollute our oceans. Plastic bags are a mistake of the past; reusable bags are the solution for our future.”