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Jul 23, 2014 8:51 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Proposed Southampton Town Plastic Bag Ban Comes Up Empty

Jul 23, 2014 9:57 AM

Members of an advisory committee implored Southampton Town Board members this week to again take up legislation that would ban the use of plastic grocery bags at supermarkets in the municipality.

Despite the strident urging, the Town Board appears split on the idea of a townwide ban on the grocery bags, with a majority opposing its imposition.

In a letter to town lawmakers, the Southampton Town Solid Waste Advisory Committee claimed that a public outreach effort begun two years ago, when the town last considered the idea of banning the utilization of such bags, has had little overall impact, and that some 20 million of the bags end up in landfills or as litter each year, from Southampton Town alone.

“Despite an active program, in operation more than two years, to educate the public and provide sites for the collection and recycling of these bags, less than 10 percent of those bags are collected,” the committee’s chairs, John DiStefano and Lucille Dunne, wrote in the letter to the Town Board. “That means that 20,000,000 of those bags enter our waste stream or litter our highways, streets, roads, parks, and obscenely wave at us when caught in trees.”

A ban proposed in recent years never gained traction at Town Hall, in part because a Republican-led majority had opposed it. This time around, the split crosses party lines—with the deciding vote against apparently being Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who had supported the ban the first time it came up three years earlier.

Democratic Councilwoman Bridget Fleming and Councilman Brad Bender, an Independence Party member, both said they were in favor of a ban, but lamented the fact that there does not appear to be enough support among their colleagues, so they have no immediate plans to introduce new legislation calling for a bag ban.

“I was on our community association for eight years ... and in all the cleanups we did in that community, the two major items that we cleaned up were beverage containers and single-use plastic bags,” said Mr. Bender, a Northampton resident and the former president of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association. “So I have always been in favor of it. But getting a complete board in favor—[it] doesn’t sound like that’s something that is going to happen right now.”

Ms. Throne-Holst said she supports a ban on plastic bags but believes a townwide ban isn’t enough—it must be undertaken on a broader scale to have a significant impact.

“I remain in favor of it, but I think the devil is in the details of how you do it,” she said on Tuesday. “My feeling is that the most effective and meaningful way of doing it is on a regional level. It is something that, first and foremost, should be dealt with on a county level but, beyond that, at least East End-wide.”

Both Southampton and East Hampton villages led the way with plastic bag bans in 2011. Ms. Throne-Holst said she has brought up the idea at meetings with other East End supervisors and village mayors, and that there has been interest in a broader ban.

Both Ms. Throne-Holst and Ms. Fleming supported the banning of plastic bags in the town when legislation was originally introduced in 2011. But the then-Town Board’s Republican-Conservative majority killed the bill before it could be brought to a public hearing.

This week, GOP Town Board members Stan Glinka and Christine Scalera said they were not in favor of pursuing a ban because of the potential costs to local merchants.

“There’s going to be a lot of resistance from our business owners because of the costs involved,” said Mr. Glinka, the former president of the Hampton Bays Chamber of Commerce. “Whether you look at the national chains, or at the mom-and-pops, there are cost factors. I hate it when I see these bags wrapped around tree branches too, but I think some more thought has to go into it.”

Ms. Scalera said a ban in Southampton Town alone would not be fair to local business owners, because some shoppers might go to stores in neighboring municipalities that allow them. “If a mother of four is doing her shopping and it’s not convenient to bring 20 bags with her, she may find it easier to go to Riverhead,” she said. “It’s not a burden we should have to carry if the rest of the East End is not.”

Ms. Scalera created the town’s grocery bag recycling outreach program with former Republican Town Board member Chris Nuzzi, promoting recycling education in public schools and at grocery stores and local beaches. The program asks residents to sign a pledge to recycle their bags and hands out town-supplied reusable grocery bags. She said the program has resulted in large improvements in the recycling of plastic grocery bags and is also educating a new generation of children.

“The real issue is people littering,” she said. “And that is not going to be resolved by a ban.”

Ms. Scalera disputed the statistics that she said the waste committee used to come up with its numbers. In fact, she alleges that their numbers show that the town now recycles 12 percent more of its plastic bags than it had in the past.

In its letter to the Town Board, the waste committee said the number of bags getting recycled still pales in comparison to the deluge of plastic that ends up in landfills or dangling from tree branches. The letter points to the ban on plastic bags imposed by Southampton Village in 2011 and says that businesses there, particularly small-business owners, have seen minor impacts on costs, and that in the hundreds of other communities nationwide that have banned the use of the light plastic bags, businesses have adapted easily without negative effects.

“The largest users of these bags are the several large-chain supermarkets,” the committee wrote in its letter. “They are ready and able to deal with a ban on single-use plastic bags.”

Ms. Fleming said that concerns about costs and shoppers looking elsewhere are unfounded, and that surveys by the town’s Green Committee showed that the owners of small shops did not object to a ban of the bags.

“I cannot imagine that shoppers are going to make a decision to go to a different store because plastic bags are not available,” she said. “I think this is the kind of thing that we could take discreet action on, and this municipality could be a leader on, as we have on a number of other things. But I don’t believe we have majority support for it on the board—so I don’t think you’re going to see it.”

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Totally ridiculous. You always have the option of plastic, or bring your own recyclable bag. It shouldn't be mandated.
By The Real World (368), southampton on Jul 23, 14 12:40 PM
We're behind the rest of the world on this one. Should be a no-brainer. Americans are lazy. End of story.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jul 23, 14 12:42 PM
2 members liked this comment
"Americans are lazy. End of story"

Wow, you sure have a low opinion of 300 million people. What's keeping you here?

Are there any other countries filled with lazy people, or do you reserve your broad, baseless hatred for the people of this country only?

May 31, 17 2:32 PM appended by MoronEliminator
By MoronEliminator (215), Montauk on Jul 23, 14 2:32 PM
1 member liked this comment
My bad. Southamptonians are lazy.

By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jul 23, 14 3:08 PM
No, not really. As a liberal, I would expect you to avoid broad generalizations of people. But then there's always been the self-loathing, anti-American exception to the "no stereotyping" rule.
By MoronEliminator (215), Montauk on Jul 23, 14 3:12 PM
What on earth makes you think I'm liberal? And what's anti-American about not wanting to see your plastic bags stuck in trees along the highway.

List one benefit of using plastic bags and one drawback of using recyclable bags.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jul 24, 14 10:10 AM
1 member liked this comment
This is such a slam dunk to approve. Been bringing my extra- strong recyclable bag since approved in Southampton village. No inconvenience! Pathetic Anna Thorne Holst, think global, act local Anna!!!
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jul 23, 14 6:51 PM
3 members liked this comment
I have gotten used to the bags. Keep some in each vehicle and wash them occasionally. I fine its easier to bring in 3 large bags then 10 flimsy little bags.
By hamptonseniorcit (1), sag harbor on Jul 23, 14 7:04 PM
3 members liked this comment
How about what they do in Europe. Not a total ban but charge for the plastic bags.
Say 25 or 50 cents each. People get the message and start bringing their own bags. If you forget you can buy a couple of plastic ones.
By lizzybabe (7), southampton on Jul 23, 14 8:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
How about the town leads by example and stops selling green plastic bags.
By harbor hound (31), southampton on Jul 23, 14 8:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
(not being snarky) do you have a better idea for charging customers for their waste?
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 23, 14 9:07 PM
yes, quite simple as they used to do for years - weight
By SHResident (59), Southampton on Jul 24, 14 9:54 AM
To understand this you need to go back to the original brown paper bags. Why did we ever switch? Those bags allowed you to put all of your groceries in one bag, they were recyclable and biodegradable with in a few months. They were reused as book covers, for painting, frying food, and many more uses. Instead of this we switched to only plastic bags with 2 to 3 items each needing a dozen bags for an order which blow around and degrade over years. So we now are told we should have reuseable bags. ...more
By Baymen87 (135), Lugoff, SC on Jul 24, 14 10:00 AM
1 member liked this comment
I agree with Mets, it should be slam dunk. Another flip flop by ATH. Follow the money.
By Justsay'n (42), Southampton on Jul 24, 14 11:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
Waldbaum's charges five cents a paper bag and supposedly gives this to a charity. That is not a bad option.
By Mets fan (1501), Southampton on Jul 24, 14 8:41 PM
1 member liked this comment
This is so simple -- plastic bags harm the environment, so outlaw them. No "education program," no "regional approach." These are just delaying tactics. Regardless of what success the education program may or may not have had, there's no reason to bother with it when you can just ban the bags and be done.

Nor is there any reason to wait for the County to act, or to wait for other East End towns to act. This isn't a ground water issue, where we all live over the same aquifer and a regional ...more
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jul 24, 14 10:00 PM
I agree with you and your previous comments on this topic. Leadership on this issue will not be forthcoming from this board as evidenced by the most recent vote count. Lobbying efforts clearly payed off. It's clear that change will have to come from the business community or a grassroots movement not reliant on town government. Elected officials cannot claim an environmental mantle if their voting record doesn't support it. Intelligent responsible citizens shouldn't support the use of petroleum ...more
By SPCarr (17), Southampton on Jul 25, 14 6:59 PM
“If a mother of four is doing her shopping and it’s not convenient to bring 20 bags with her, she may find it easier to go to Riverhead,” she said.

This is makes no sense to me. I am pretty sure that more than a few mothers, regardless of the number of children they have, are already driving to Riverhead to shop at BJs. Which has no bags at all, plastic or paper. I am sure just as many will be now driving to Costco. Same thing. No bags.

As another poster ...more
By bb (922), Hampton Bays on Jul 28, 14 10:10 AM
1 member liked this comment
Throne-Holst & Bender are for banning plastic bags to save the environment, but they are not against "The Hills" in East Quogue. Hypocrites they both are!
By crusader (391), East Quogue on Jul 29, 14 3:09 PM
An Apples and Hamburgers comparison, but yea...
By Nature (2966), Hampton Bays on Jul 29, 14 3:52 PM
Crusader, ATH is not for banning the bags. Fleming and Bender are. Fleming has also been the a critic on the "Hills" BTW.
By Justsay'n (42), Southampton on Jul 31, 14 1:52 PM
Love your post "Turkey." Keep it up!
By Justsay'n (42), Southampton on Jul 31, 14 1:53 PM
Thank you.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Aug 2, 14 4:23 PM
but citarella will still have the bags? because they are of a higher plastic volume? I am sure King Kullen, Rite Aid KMart and all the other stores will NOT go along with this ban lightly. By the way, has Waldbaums announced how much $$ it has given?and to what charity??? think not.
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Aug 2, 14 9:20 PM
I wonder how much $ King K or the developer for the proposed King K in Tuckaho has given to ATH in her past campaigns?
By Justsay'n (42), Southampton on Aug 4, 14 7:25 PM