Suffolk considers plastic bag surcharge for shoppers

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | East Marion resident Pat Volinski loads her car with groceries purchased at Walbaums in Mattituck. Ms. Volinski said she will bring her own bags to the store if the county begins to charge five cents per plastic bag.

The Suffolk County Legislature held a second public hearing Tuesday in Riverhead to discuss a bill that would see shoppers pay five cents for every plastic bag they use. Under the measure, retailers would receive a penny for every nickel charged — the remaining four cents would go to the county for stormwater remediation projects.

The bill’s sponsor, Deputy Presiding Officer Vivian Viloria-Fisher, was away this week but said in a memo that if an average of 100 bags are given out daily at about 6,680 stores, then the county would collect nearly $9.8 million annually — over $48.8 in five years.

The Legislature held a first public hearing in the measure in Hauppauge last month, when several supporters of the bill spoke.

Tara Bono, a spokeswoman for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, told county law makers that while her group is in favor of the bill it would rather see “an all-out ban on both paper and plastic bags.”

“Suffolk County now has an opportunity to stand out as a leader in sustainability while protecting our marine resources, conserving fossil fuels and reducing unsightly litter,” she said.

But the American Chemistry Council, which is a trade association based in Washington, D.C. that opposes the bill, insisting such fees won’t change people’s shopping habits.

Instead, Keith Christman, the association’s managing director of plastics markets, told The Suffolk Times providing recycling awareness programs is the best way to get communities to increase recycling. In addition, Mr. Christman noted about 855 million pounds of plastic bags recycled in 2009 were used to make backyard decks, home building products and even new plastic bags.

“Taxing plastic bags would derail the growing recycling infrastructure for this material,” he said.

A county spokesman said the Legislature will reopen the public hearing at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Nov. 9.

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