The IGA supermarkets in Southold and Greenport are donating the five-cent plastic bag fee to local hospitals in a effort to give back to the community.
Since Jan. 1, Suffolk County has enforced a new law that requires shoppers to pay a nickel for every non-reusable plastic bag provided by the store. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that there are between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags consumed worldwide every year, and 14 million trees are cut down each year to make paper bags. Plastic bags do not biodegrade and can also be harmful to birds and sea life.
The IGA decision came from the stores’ owner, Charles Reichert, who has taken the initiative after getting feedback from community members asking why the supermarket should benefit from this new law.
“We have some customers coming in saying to charge them for five bags instead of one because they know now the money is going to charity,” Mr. Reichert said.
The Greenport and Southold stores will be cutting a monthly check to Eastern Long Island Hospital and the Fort Salonga and Larkfield IGAs, also owned by Mr. Reichert, are donating their nickels to Huntington Hospital. So far, Eastern Long Island Hospital has received $1,300 for the month of January and Huntington Hospital was given $1,200.
“Those nickels really add up,” Mr. Reichert said.
Paul Connor, the president and CEO of Eastern Long Island Hospital, said the money will be used to renovate operating room suites.
“We’ve always enjoyed an excellent relationship with the community and especially the business community,” Mr. Connor said. “Mr. Reichert is stepping forward recognizing ELIH as a significant asset to the community by investing in our hospital, and we are very grateful.”
“Customers are thrilled with the idea,” Greenport IGA manager Dino Cortina said. “They’re glad that he’s the first owner to step up and not keep the money. If you are going to use the bag instead of thinking the store is profiting from a new law, we wanted to show the community that we’re not going to profit.”
The plastic bag fee does go to the retailer. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone had sought to change this when the bill was being discussed and called for a portion of the fee to go toward environmental programs. Mr. Reichert credits the customers with the idea because many didn’t like the fact that the stores would profit from this new law. “Remember we’re small stores,” he said. “If we can get the big guys like the Walmarts, the Stop and Shops and the Targets to donate their money, could you imagine how that would help charities?”
Mr. Reichert said his IGA stores also gave out about 3,000 reusable bags for free when the law came into effect Jan. 1.
“We hope that most stores will decide to step up and do the same thing and follow the lead that we’re setting forth,” Mr. Cortina said.
Photo caption: Plastic bags at the Southold IGA. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)