With the backing of environmental advocates and over the objections of the plastics and supermarket industries, a Southampton Village Board majority adopted a ban Tuesday on plastic bags at village stores and restaurants.
The village board was slated to vote on the bill earlier this month, but it was put off due to a technical change to the legislation. A plastics lobbyist, Stephen Rosario of the American Chemistry Council, came before the board Tuesday to implore members to put off the vote again, saying a legal analysis of the legislation concluded that because of state law and court precedent “Southampton is preempted from taking action in banning plastic bags,” but the board majority was not convinced.
The ban, which takes effect in six months, applies to retail stores, sidewalk sales, farmers markets, flea markets and restaurants. Yard sales, tag sales and sales by nonprofit organizations would be exempt. Checkout bags larger than 28 by 36 inches and produce bags would not be subject to the ban.
Rosario told the board that state law concerning the recycling of plastic bags, which requires that stores have bins to accept used bags, preempts the village law. Additionally, he said case law suggests that the village would need to conduct a review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, because if consumers switch to paper bags, it will have negative environmental impacts, namely increased emissions and fuel use to manufacture and transport the paper bags. The village board had voted April 14 that the law does not require a SEQRA review.
Members of the village’s “green” committee, Southampton Advocates for the Village Environment, which originated the bill, retorted that the ban is not about recycling bags or about switching to paper. “It’s a bring-your-own-bag law,” Mackie Finnerty said.
Mayor Mark Epley and Trustees Nancy McGann and Richard Yastrzemski voted in favor of the bill; Trustee Paul Robinson was the sole dissenter, citing concerns including over-legislating. Trustee Bonnie Cannon was absent Tuesday, but she voiced her support for the measure at earlier board meetings.
Michael Mosolino of village business told the board that, after some research, he came to support the bag ban. “At first I thought, you know, maybe they're just going a little wacky on the village board,” he said. He then watched a documentary on harmful effects of plastic bags and other plastics to the environment, “Bag It.”
“As businesses, we do look at the dollar, the penny; every penny counts, but now we have to look further, ” Mosolino said. “If you take this,” he said, holding a take-out plastic food container, “and you throw it in your microwave, we are potentially hurting our customers and our children.”
Before casting his vote against the legislation, Robinson said the SAVE committee’s work is commendable. “There is clearly a need to educate the community so that our shopping habits are changed, but I have been contacted by numerous people who have concerns about this particular piece of legislation,” he said.
“It takes the emphasis away from plastic and puts it on paper,” Robinson said, as one objection. “Paper in some ways, is worse for the environment.”
Additionally, the ban will have an effect on commerce during an international recession, and it is more legislation when there is too much legislation already, he said. He has advocated educating the public on reducing and recycling instead.
Acknowledging Robinson and Rosario’s objections, Yastrzemski said, “I think it’s a start. We have to start somewhere.”
“No matter how much you educate the public, it’s just too easy to go to the supermarket and get a plastic bag,” McGann said.
“This is a very strong statement in a very small village on Long Island and I’m very proud to be able to sit here and vote on this, and I’m proud of our SAVE committee,” Epley said.
When the bill passed, most of the audience applauded.