Since the implementation of the 5-cent bag fee in Suffolk, consumer habits have changed dramatically, according to the results of surveys done by Citizens Campaign for the Environment. Photo: Katie Blasl

Single-use plastic carryout bags would be banned statewide under a bill introduced Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo’s bill would not impose any fees on the distribution of single-use plastic carryout bags and also appears to pre-empt any local law — like Suffolk County’s — that imposes such fees.

The governor’s bill vests all jurisdiction in matters relating to plastic bag recycling and fees in the state.

“Any provision of any local law or ordinance … governing the recycling of plastic bags and film plastic and fees or other measures associated with single use bags shall, upon the effective date of this title, be pre-empted,” the bill says.

Cuomo and state legislators last year blocked a NYC law that imposed a per-bag fee, similar to Suffolk’s. Cuomo criticized the measure as a windfall for supermarkets and other vendors, who were to keep the revenues from the bag fee. The same arrangement is in place under Suffolk’s law.

But the 5-cent bag fee in Suffolk is working well, according to advocates for the measure, which went into effect Jan. 1 of this year.

The law has had a dramatic impact on consumer behavior, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment, one of the organizations that fought hard for Suffolk’s 5-cent per bag fee.

“It’s amazing what a nickel can motivate people to do,” Esposito told the Suffolk County Legislature’s health committee during a presentation last week of the results of a consumer survey conducted this month.

Image: Citizens Campaign for the Environment

CCE has conducted two surveys at grocery stores across Suffolk County, one just before the law took effect and a second one on the weekend of April 7-8. Teams of volunteers observed 20,000 people last year and 6,000 people this month.

Prior to the 5-cent bag fee law, 71 percent of the public were using plastic bags, the December survey found. This month, only 30 percent of the public were taking plastic bags. Reusable bag use shot up from 6 percent of shoppers to 43 percent. Shoppers who didn’t bring reusable bags often carried out items without any bags, the survey found.

“We will not support any provision that pre-empts Suffolk County’s or any other local ordinance that imposes fees,” Esposito said.

Esposito said she is waiting for clarification from the governor’s office about the intent of the pre-emption language in the bill he submitted to the State Legislature yesterday.

The governor’s press office did not respond to a request for comment.

If existing laws that impose fees on carry-out plastic bags are not “grandfathered,” Esposito said she and other environmental advocates “will work on modifying his bill.”

Reusable bags are a common sight in local supermarkets now. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Esposito said the best legislative measure would be one that both bans single-use plastic carryout bags and imposes a fee on other point-of-sale bags distributed at stores — including thicker, reusable plastic bags and paper bags. That was what advocates originally sought in Suffolk, she noted.

The measure introduced by Cuomo yesterday is “a bill that tells us the governor recgonizes that plastic pollution deserves statewide attention and needs to be addressed,” Esposito said.

If it passes, New York would become the second state in the nation to ban single-use plastic carryout bags, joining California, which adopted a ban in 2016.

But its passage is considered a long shot by some insiders, who say it will face bipartisan opposition in both chambers of the State Legislature — from Democrats in the Assembly who say it doesn’t go far enough and from Republicans in the Senate who say it goes too far.

Besides not imposing any fees on carryout bags, the bill exempts certain types of plastic bags used for certain purposes, including garment bags, bags used to wrap or contain certain foods, such as fruits and sliced meats and plastic bags provided by a restaurant to carry out or deliver foods.

The governor’s action follows the release of the New York State Plastic Bags Task Force report in January, which outlined the environmental impact of plastic bags and proposed actions to reduce pollution and protect New York’s natural resources, including a ban on single-use plastic bags.

“The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment,” Cuomo said in a press release announcing the bill on Monday. “As the old proverb goes: ‘We did not inherit the earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children,’ and with this action we are helping to leave a stronger, cleaner and greener New York for all.”

 

 

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.