Suffolk County consumers who take their purchases home in single-use plastic bags will have to pay a nickel apiece for the privilege beginning in January 2018.
The County Legislature tonight passed legislation requiring the 5-cent-per-bag fee.
The new law will apply to all bags, both plastic and paper, used to carry goods from a “covered store” — defined to include nearly all retail establishments. The “covered store” definition does not include food service establishments, except those located inside grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores or foodmarts.
The definition of “carryout bag” excludes bags without handles used to carry items to the point of sale within a store or to keep food items from coming into contact with other items — such as the plastic film bags used to bag produce or packages of meat.
The law requires covered stores to charge a minimum fee of 5 cents for each carryout bag provided to any customer. The fees must be separately itemized on the customer’s receipt.
All fees collected by a covered store under this local law shall be retained by the store.
The bill passed tonight by a vote of 13 to 4, is an amended version of a bill introduced in March by Legislator William Spencer and cosponsored by Legislator Al Krupski.
The original version would have banned carryout bags made of plastic less than 2.25 mils thick — the typical plastic grocery bag in use today — but would have allowed thicker plastic bags with handles — deemed “reusable” under that version of the bill — upon payment of a 10-cent-per bag fee.
Stores that violate the law are subject to a civil fine of $500 per violation.
In May, Spencer moved to table the bill for revisions. Legislators held a second public hearing on the amended bill July 26.
“These plastic bags are a mistake of the past,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment executive director Adrienne Esposito told the legislators tonight in Riverhead prior to the vote. “Reusable bags are the solution for our future. We’re asking you to correct the mistake of the past and help us do the right thing for the future.”
South Fork Legislator Bridget Fleming, a former councilwoman in Southampton, which enacted a plastic bag ban during her tenure, said, “None of the opponents’ doomsday scenarios have come to pass. We can make the transition to reusable bags with less pain than you think.”
Legislator Thomas Barraga of West Islip argued that the fee paid by consumers should not be retained by the retailer, but should go to the county. Legislative Counsel George Nolan said that would risk having a court determine the law imposed an unauthorized tax, making it vulnerable to being struck down. Spencer said he would lobby state lawmakers for legislation authorizing the fee.
Spencer urged his colleagues to support the measure.
“This is scary. I get it,” he said. “People are afraid of anything that relates to fees. This is something we can do. It’s tangible. It will make a difference. All over the world it’s been shown to have a large impact,” Spencer said.
He said he’d made changes to the bill as “concessions to the industry” and its current form is something the industry can live with.
“I’m asking you to be brave. Be bold. Stand with me. It’s something we should have done a long time ago,” Spence said, to applause from the audience.
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