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Feb 2, 2016 10:41 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Now Widespread, Plastic Bag Bans Draw Mixed Reviews

Bags made of plastic that is more than 2.5 millimeters thick are not banned.  KYRIL BROMLEY
Feb 2, 2016 10:41 AM

It’s been five months since the use of the once-ubiquitous plastic grocery bag was effectively banned on the South Fork. In those months, stores have adapted to the new limits in a variety of ways, but compliance has been largely universal, officials say. Customers, meanwhile, have met the ban with everything from grudging acceptance to enthusiastic embrace.

Around the South Fork this week, some residents celebrated the ban and applauded it for the changes in their habits that it has brought, while others scorned it and said they longed for the old plastic bags. Some of those who championed the bans lamented that loopholes are still feeding mountains of plastic bags to landfills.

The bans adopted on the South Fork applied only to the thin single-use plastic bags traditionally used by the billions in supermarkets and shops around the country. Bags made of plastic that is more than 2.5 millimeters thick are not banned, nor are bags made from plastics designed to biodegrade. Both of these “loopholes” have left some of those who pushed for the bans, first in Southampton and East Hampton villages and then in the broader townships, with regrets about their shortcomings.

“Mostly, we think of it as a success, because most people are complying and the supermarkets aren’t giving out so many as they were,” said Mackie Finnerty, a member of the group Southampton Advocates for the Village Environment, or SAVE, which pressed for the region’s first bans on the bags in Southampton Village and East Hampton Village in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

“But there are still Citarella bags in the garbage—the whole thing we were trying to prevent. We spoke to them many times; they say they encourage people to reuse them. Now, CVS has gone back to that loophole in the law that two-ply bags were allowed. I don’t understand why they would do that.”

The modes of compliance with the bans by store owners have varied. Supermarkets and grocery stores, the biggest users of the old single-use bags, have shifted almost entirely to giving customers paper bags, free of charge—the old Waldbaum’s stores had originally started charging customers 5 cents for paper bags when the village bans began, but it ultimately abandoned the practice. At the Stop & Shop supermarket in Hampton Bays, shoppers are offered the option of purchasing a heavy plastic bag with handles for 10 cents. The smaller Stop & Shop grocers in Southampton Village and East Hampton Village do not offer the heavier plastic bags.

At some large chain stores, like Kmart, the ban pressed corporate decision-makers to simply shift to heavier plastic bags, a more expensive alternative to paper bags but a more durable chassis for customers with bulky or oddly shaped items. The Kmart bags carry a request to customers to return the bags to the store for recycling.

Calls to the corporate offices of both chains requesting comment or statistics about the companies’ choice of using the heavier plastic bags were not returned.

At many small delis and retail stores, racks of thin plastic bags still hang behind the counter, and customers can walk out with five or six bags in hand. The bags, like one received at Bar Boy in Hampton Bays recently, carry a printed note on their bottoms, saying that the bag, when deposited in a landfill, will biodegrade, its materials breaking down into water and carbon dioxide—a claim that some critics met with incredulity.

“They are a little more expensive, not too much—we try to give the paper more,” said a manager at an East Hampton deli, who asked not to be identified, since he was speaking without permission of his boss. “The other ones, they were very cheap. But I don’t think it has hurt us, the costs, very much.”

Those who championed the bans had argued at the time that they would mainly push shoppers to shift to bringing their own reusable shopping bags to stores with them, a practice that observation would seem to indicate has not become universal.

On a recent Friday afternoon, of 20 customers who went through checkout lines at the Hampton Bays Stop & Shop, only two had brought their own bags. The rest all took their groceries home in paper bags, as many as 12, and none purchased the 10-cent heavy plastic bags offered at the checkout line.

“I don’t bring my own, and I’ll tell you why: They overfill them and I can’t lift them,” said a woman who asked only to be identified as Margaret outside the Stop & Shop, as she and a friend, both senior citizens, loaded their car with nine paper bags of groceries between the two of them.

She lamented the town’s ban on the single-use bags, which she said she used to line her trash cans. Their paper replacements are not as durable, she said, but are preferable to having nothing: “I use these for my trash, if they don’t rip.”

In Bridgehampton a few hours earlier, a parade of 20 shoppers leaving the store included four who had brought their own reusable bags and 16 who left with between two and 17 paper bags in their grocery carts.

At the smaller stores in Southampton Village and East Hampton Village, the number of customers who brought their own bags was higher. Outside the Southampton Stop & Shop, 12 of 20 customers leaving the store had their goods in a bag they had brought themselves. In East Hampton, on a Wednesday night, eight of 20 customers had their own bags.

“I never used to bring these until [the bans],” said Susan Desantis, pointing to the five reusable bags held by her daughter, Melanie, as the pair entered the Southampton store on a recent Friday evening. “It’s not too much of an inconvenience, really—you just have to remember to put them back in the car.”

But at the smallest stores, shops and delis, employees and observation indicate that customers bringing their own bags in is more than a rarity.

“You see most people bringing their own bag to the grocery stores, but that hasn’t transferred to other stores,” Ms. Finnerty said. “The hardware store, or CVS, they just don’t do it for some reason. We need to change that culture. In Europe, people bring their bags everywhere.”

The region’s two largest villages had banned the bags by 2012, and the towns and Sag Harbor Village followed suit last winter, with Southampton’s ban taking effect in April and East Hampton’s in September. The villages of Westhampton Beach and Quogue have not enacted bans. Riverhead Town and Southold Town, which had initially been said to be in line to enact similar bans, have also failed to follow suit.

Critics of the law during the debates over their enactment point still to scientific data about greenhouse gases given off in the production and degradation of paper bags versus plastic, as a counterpoint to the environmental-benefit claims of those in favor of the bans. Replacing thousands, perhaps millions, of plastic bags with an equal number of paper bags may not be an improvement, they say.

Doubters had also pointed to incremental increased costs for store owners, though few complaints about the bottom line have since been heard.

“The things I was worried about in the beginning are exactly what has happened—we’ve wound up with thicker plastic bags, and people have adapted in other ways than what was intended,” said Southampton Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera, who had opposed Southampton’s ban when it was adopted last winter. “There’s more paper, using more trees, releasing more methane gas as it decomposes. Nothing shows me it has had a positive effect.”

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Save a tree. Plant hemp.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 2, 16 6:32 PM
2 members liked this comment
so we now have a higher graded of plastic bags blowing all over the east end. our tax dollars at work. lots of delis stores etc are still using the old bags so where is the environmental savings?
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Feb 2, 16 7:06 PM
Maybe these make believe tree hugging morons should go to Europe if they like it so much.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Feb 2, 16 7:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
The 2 1/2 amigos. What a shocker.
By kiddio (16), SOUTHAMPTON on Feb 3, 16 1:24 AM
Paper bags were a better solution for everything. If anything was to be mandated that would have been a better solution.

Now you have the government you wanted there. Enjoy it!
By Baymen87 (135), Lugoff, SC on Feb 4, 16 9:00 AM
1 member liked this comment
Just put some reusables in your car. It's not that hard to remember. This is a generational issue. Older people just need to learn a new habit. I take one into the hardware store, into the bagel store, etc. If you know you are buying an object, have a bag for it. Grow up.
By EveScotti (1), Forest Hills, New York on Feb 4, 16 11:12 AM
Wow "grow up"?!?!!? "generational issue"!?!? - How about showing some respect for the many senior citizens in the Town of Southampton? There seems to be several unintended consequences to the ban on single use plastic bags.
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Feb 4, 16 11:28 AM
I used to have to scrounge around to find paper bags so I could recycle my newspapers. Now they are like cockroaches literally and figuratively.
By Dr Spock (36), Hampton Bays on Feb 4, 16 11:45 AM
The positive impact is obvious. There are significantly less of those cheap white plastic bags everywhere.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Feb 4, 16 11:52 AM
Isn't that the fault of the person that litters? Admittedly, the lightweight bags fly around more than the heavy weight ones, but I doubt that the "cheap white bags" escaped from the grocery store when no one was looking.
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Feb 4, 16 12:04 PM
Sorry, I'm not going to support banning people and keeping the plastic if that is what you are suggesting.....
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Feb 5, 16 7:10 AM
"Banning People?!?!", really? - how about litter control and better garbage removal. It appears that there are unintended consequences to the ban that may or may not be worse.
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Feb 5, 16 7:21 AM
This law is a complete waste of time and is an example of the politically correct BS that comes from our elected officials today. The cheap paper bags break before you get home. The paper bags also take up more room in the land fill. It's too bad the plastic bags were banned before the useless town board who approved this law had time to put them over their heads and ale a nap. Brad, Anna and Bridgit will really be missed.
By Ernie (88), Hampton Bays on Feb 4, 16 2:33 PM
go shopping in Riverhead and bring back all the plastic bags you want!!
By Jaws (245), Amity Island on Feb 4, 16 11:08 PM
2 members liked this comment
Some of these comments. I'm glad the earth doesn't mean anything to some of you. Go ahead and leave so the rest of us can live with out you.

It's not just about littering. If a thousand bags go into a landfill more than likely at least 50 will fly away. and yes the littering too. People need to stop treating the planet like a trash can. I also in no way support the paper bags. I think if you can't be bothered to bring a bag into a store they should change you the cost of a tree. What is ...more
By Polandspring (96), Southampton on Feb 5, 16 7:40 AM
2 members liked this comment
My comments about littering was just that - littering - don't blame the plastic bags for that. I am actually in favor of A plastic bag ban, but I am not sure that THIS ONE was well thought out. I followed the public hearing on this and the unintended consequences were dismissed by some members of the Board. In fact not only would I support a well thought out plastic bag ban, I would support a well thought out Styrofoam ban. I have used reusable bags for years and avoid businesses that use Styrofoam. ...more
By HB Proud (889), Hampton Bays on Feb 5, 16 8:35 AM
I recommend having a look at Evocative Design's website.

Fungus is the new polystyrene.
Feb 8, 16 10:15 AM appended by Mr. Z
Ecovative. Dang autocorrect.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 8, 16 10:15 AM
By banning the plastic bags (which you can use for other things), you are still damaging the environment by cutting trees down for the paper bags. Makes sense.
By Sour09 (18), Hampton Bays on Feb 6, 16 1:37 AM
Paper bags are made from trees, which are a renewable resource.

Most plastic bags are made from polyethylene, which is made from petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. Polyethylene, a man-made polymer that microorganisms don't recognize as food.

Those plastic bags will be with us for an estimated 500+ years...the paperbag....5-10. Makes sense indeed.
By KevinLuss (356), SH on Feb 6, 16 2:51 PM
as it seems with so many things in life (like white bread, coffee, and even whole milk) there will come a time that SOMEONE will be saying that the paper bags r causing a problem for some reason (i.e. trees or chemicals in their manufacture or some other reason) and that we need to go back to plastic or some version of plastic bags. One of the benefits of being a senior citizen is the u benefit from seeing the circle of life repeat itself over and over again. That said I don't think that what ...more
By pcd328 (4), Wainscott on Feb 7, 16 9:42 AM
1 member liked this comment
Hemp is FAR more renewable than trees.

You can buy hemp or jute bags for as little as $2-3 apiece, and they tend to last especially when cared for.

We cannot continue down the path from being a society of durable goods, to disposable goods. The waste is simply incalculable.
Feb 8, 16 8:49 AM appended by Mr. Z
I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. foin seed, and that of the India Hemp. Make the most you can of both, by sowing them again in drills. . . Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed (St. loin) be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where. ~ George Washington in a note to his gardener at Mount Vernon (1794)
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 8, 16 8:49 AM
Not a scientist, can they be made recycleable???
By knitter (1941), Southampton on Feb 9, 16 2:51 PM
1 member liked this comment
Ever since the ban went in to affect, my garbage piles are at least 5 to 6% larger than normal. Before the ban, when I could actually recycle the plastic bags and use them again and again I could do a trip every 2weeks, now thanks to my household garbage filling up with useless, ripped paper bags that barely work I am forced to take more trips to the dump, forced to spend more money on green bags, and forced to pollute heavier than before. Sounds like a victory to Liberals for me!

Oh, and ...more
By Inch_High_PI (29), Southampton on Feb 10, 16 1:58 PM
You are very delusional
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Feb 12, 16 2:59 PM
You are not suppose to put brown paper in green town bags. Brown paper and cardboard is recycled in the same bin, not in green bags with household trash. I will agree with you that the paper bags do have more bulk and the recycling builds up fast. Yesterday I took my brown bags to the recycling center and while dumping them they all blew away not even making it into trailer.
By deelove (152), Bridgehampton on Feb 12, 16 11:05 PM
Truly, people, how difficult is it to bring your own bags to the store? Really, how can other people learn this habit and we are making such a big deal about it? As for carrying paper bags filled with heavy items, one needs two hands and arms. It is the most inefficient way of moving goods.
By Mass48 (4), East Hampton on Feb 11, 16 1:33 PM
Corporate lawyers will find a loophole somewhere. Instead of cooperating with the intent of the regulation, they find ways around it. The world would be a better place without Attorneys. Just because a loophole exists, doesn't mean it has to be exploited. If you are old enough, you can remember when paper bags were the norm and plastic bags were new. Everyone hated the plastic bags and demanded paper. There was an art to bagging groceries with paper bags... The plastic bags didn't have a shape or ...more
By deelove (152), Bridgehampton on Feb 12, 16 11:12 PM