Editorial: A plastic bag ban in Southold is overdue

Plastic bag ban Southold Greenport

It’s been 14 months since Southold Town hosted a public forum to debate banning plastic bags across the East End. At the time, the crowd overwhelmingly supported an edict preventing businesses from giving out plastic bags at checkout lines. 

It’s been nine months since Southampton and East Hampton towns both banned single-use plastic bags.

It’s been four months since Westhampton Village became the latest South Fork village to discuss implementing its own ban.

It’s been a week since more than a dozen residents marched to the podium at a Southold Town Board meeting and urged members to consider banning plastic bags, which environmentalists warn can have serious effects on local wildlife if improperly disposed of.

And yet, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell still says he won’t even discuss a ban on the town level.

He should. Southold Town had an opportunity to be a leader on this issue by doing the right thing and making it easier for consumers to be environmentally friendly. Instead, the town sat back and watched other municipalities take on the challenge and succeed.

Many of us understand the damage posed by plastic bags. We’ve seen them stuffed in storm drains or rolling along on our beaches. They generally only last a few minutes before beginning to rip, yet can take hundreds of years to naturally degrade.

Few people — besides pet owners looking to clean up after Fido or Mr. Whiskers — would be upset to see the flimsy bags go.

During last week’s public meeting, Mr. Russell said he felt businesses would be harmed by a plastic bag ban, noting that it would be an added cost for merchants to bear. But a little research shows there are simple solutions to quell that concern.

Among the easiest: Pass the negligible cost onto the consumer. Would any of us object to paying an extra nickel, quarter, or even a dollar for our groceries if it meant getting rid of plastic bags? The cost is already added to our grocery bills (after all, plastic bags, though cheap, aren’t free).

So why not make those charges transparent, charge consumers for paper bags, or waive the fee if they bring a reusable bag?

This ban wouldn’t be necessary if we, as citizens, did the right thing. For decades, we’ve heard the merits of “reduce, reuse, recycle.” Yet how many of us own reusable bags and regularly bring them to the grocery store?

As noble as the cause is, the simple fact of the matter is this: The majority of people won’t take action on plastic bags unless we’re forced to. And the health of our bays and environment is too important to leave to another municipality.