Editorial: It’s time for a ban on plastic bags in Suffolk

plastic bag

Suffolk County legislators were considering pulling the trigger on a single-use plastic bag ban. But then, at a May 5 meeting in Riverhead, they stepped back to reload.

A resolution by county Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) would have prohibited the distribution of the bags, which nearly all retailers provide to consumers free of charge. Some people re-use the bags in multiple ways and some take them to local recycling centers.

But those with eyes to see will note that most of the flimsy pieces of plastic don’t get recycled. Instead, they find their way into our streets, fields, beaches, storm drains and waterways.

According to Greenpeace, close to 270 species have suffered from ingesting plastic bags, which don’t biodegrade and travel through ecosystems, causing irreparable damage. Locally, ospreys and other birds are harmed or killed by either eating the plastic, feeding it to their chicks or using plastic bags as part of their nests. On a global level, there are ocean “gyres,” or huge islands of plastic trash in the Pacific and Atlantic that have flowed there from all over the planet, including the East End of Long Island.

In an interview with this newspaper last month, Dr. Spencer, a physician, said now is the right time to confront this persistent issue.

“We know plastic has put a major burden on the earth,” he said. “For the most part we use it for a very short period of time, but that plastic bag is around for thousands of years after that.”

After the May 5 decision to table his proposal, Dr. Spencer said, according to Newsday, that the idea of a ban was “big … bold and the opposition is scared of change; I get that.”

The opposition Dr. Spencer was referring to is the petroleum industry and lobbyists for grocery store organizations — in particular, the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, which has said imposing a small change on consumers would bring on the dawn of Armageddon.

Legislator Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac), who represents the South Fork and Shelter Island, knows firsthand what restricting access to single-use plastic bags can do.

Southampton and East Hampton towns passed bans in late 2014. Ms. Fleming told us recently that “the region-wide effort on the South Fork has removed more than two million bags per year from the environment. I’m grateful that more and more of the community is on board with the effort and doing a great job bringing reusable bags when they shop.”

We hope the legislators concerned about protecting our environment stay strong in negotiations with their colleagues to quickly craft a law that makes environmental sense — not just for individual municipalities, but for Suffolk County.