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Feb 2, 2011 10:22 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Village Considers Plastic Bag Ban

Feb 2, 2011 10:22 AM

Mackie Finnerty spied a rare swan on the front page of the newspaper this winter and set off, binoculars in hand, to try to spot the real thing along the shores of Southampton Village’s Lake Agawam. There, among the reeds, she thought she saw it, and her heart fluttered with anticipation.

“I was all excited. And what do I see but what is known on eastern Long Island as a ‘plastic-bag bird’ stuck in the reeds,” the village resident recalled, crestfallen.

The plastic bag, that ubiquitous tool of convenience for shoppers, also plays the role of environmental menace. When not disguising itself as rare waterfowl, it can also act as a kind of mock jellyfish accused of choking and strangling marine life.

With scores of village shops and restaurants dispensing the bags daily within a short distance of local waterways, Ms. Finnerty and fellow members of Southampton Advocates for the Environment, or SAVE, are looking to turn back the tide. To do so, they are turning an eye toward local business.

Following about a year’s worth of research into the matter, including a visit to a New England community that has embraced such an ordinance, SAVE has recommended that the Village Board adopt legislation banning the most common type of plastic checkout bag from restaurants, stores and farmers markets within the village.

And several businesses and shoppers appear to be lining up behind the idea.

Southampton Village Attorney Richard DePetris is expected to finalize the legislation before the public has an opportunity to weigh in at a public hearing.

According to a draft ordinance, the goal is to clean the environment by encouraging the use of reusable checkout bags, while banning the use of plastic bags for purchased goods. And retailers would be encouraged to provide paper bags, which advocates say are more sustainable than plastic.

The focus is narrow: just the commonplace, flimsy-handed plastic bags at checkouts will be banished. Small produce bags in grocery store aisles and large dry-cleaning bags or other plastic items would not be affected. But the overall implications, according to SAVE, are much broader.

Advocates cite everything from helping wean the nation from its dependence on the fossil fuels used to make plastic bags to benefits for retail owners. When SAVE members visited Westport, Connecticut, an affluent waterfront town similar to Southampton, in December, they reported that retailers noted a reduction in costs from not having to replenish supplies of single-use bags and a profit on the sale of reusable bags. National chains, such as RiteAid and CVS, which take directions from their non-local corporate headquarters, have followed suit in places where the bans have been enacted, SAVE members said.

At the least, the paper or reusable bags that some stores such as Hildreth’s Home Goods, 
Twist, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers and Chico’s have turned 
to, are excellent advertising, SAVE members said.

“The benefits are twofold,” said Village Trustee Richard Yastrzemski, liaison to SAVE. “It’s not just getting rid of a non-biodegradable product—it’s good advertising.”

Others point to the European model. “We consume, as a nation, an enormous number of them because we use them once and throw them away,” said Roger Blaugh, of SAVE, citing how in several European countries, the default is to bring your own bag shopping.

In the shops of Southampton, merchants and shoppers have reacted warmly to the idea of banning plastic bags—even those who are still using them.

“I think they should,” replied Robert Miller of Noyac when asked his opinion of such a ban this week. “They’re made of petroleum,” he said as he accepted a plastic bag of his purchases at Catena’s Market in Southampton Village. “We talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk,” his wife, Liz Miller, acknowledged.

According to SAVE, local legislation would do more to cut down on plastic bag usage than voluntary compliance alone could do. Ms. Finnerty said that in Westport, more than 60 percent of shoppers bought their own reusable bags within a year of the ban’s passage. San Francisco, which has practiced in-store bag recycling for about a decade, reported that only about 1 percent of bags were actually recycled, according to SAVE.

Vic Finalborgo, the proprietor of Catena’s, said he goes “back and forth” on the idea because, “I think good plastic bags, people reuse. I see a lot of Schmidt’s and Citarella bags.” His market, meanwhile, while it still uses plastic bags, has a small sign that appeared on the cash register last spring, designed to make patrons think twice: “Do you really need a bag today?” Those at Catena’s who reject a bag might get offered a spotted banana in exchange, he smiled.

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Don't ban them, tax them. Say $5 per bag. That will result in immediate behavioral changes (and the sale of reusable bags).
By Noah Way (450), Southampton on Feb 7, 11 4:14 PM
I've always found the plastic bags convenient garbage bags. When they fill up I take them and dump them in the garbage in the garage. It helps reduce the smell of garbage inside the house. When I have too many I return them to the market for recycling. The brown paper bags would not work as well for this as they would degrade just by being wet.

In the general scheme of things, are paper bags that much more environmentally friendly than plastic bags? Maybe. The plastic bag is a derivative ...more
By V.Tomanoku (790), southampton on Feb 10, 11 12:08 PM
Good. Get rid of the bags.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Feb 10, 11 12:23 PM