A ban on plastic bags like one recently adopted by the village of Southampton is now on the table for the Southampton Town Board to consider, but local opinion is mixed, with members of the business community imploring the board not to seek a ban.
"The goal is to cause people to bring their own bags [to the market]," Tip Brolin, the chair of the Sustainable Southampton Committee, said at a town board work session Friday.
If the legislation should pass, Brolin explained, the first six months would be used for educational outreach. Next, “Plastic bags would be banned, period,” he said. “It’s the same law as what was and Westport, Connecticut. We’re not trying to be original here.”
In Southampton Village, the ban, the , which was passed in April and will take effect in October, 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.
"It’s very important we all understand the purpose is not to set up a competition between paper and plastic," Brolin said. "The purpose is to get away from plastic and move people toward multiple-use bags that people can leave in the car and take shopping with them."
Brolin said he advocates a ban on plastic bags because they are harmful to the environment, litter the landscape, clog storm drains and kill birds and animals.
Members of the supermarket community and the Southampton Business Alliance expressed objections, and Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst suggested a group convene to weigh the issues, with educational outreach being critical.
“The hope is to put together a productive group, with all the stakeholders, that would meet regularly and continue to flesh out the issues,” Throne-Holst said.
According to Southampton Town’s sustainability coordinator, Liz Plouff, if the legislation should pass retailers would offer 40 percent recycled content paper bags in lieu of plastic, with the ultimate goal being that consumers will get into the habit of bringing their own bags to shop.
Plouff added that the effort is meant to be about not only conservation, but beautification. “The reason people come to Southampton is because it’s so beautiful.” Plastic bags on the beach causes the town “to lose its allure,” she said.
Thomas Cullen, vice president of , said the legislation is really “a litter law” and advocated for educational outreach and tracking usage to see if there is a way to reduce demand by informing the public.
Sheryl Heather of the Southampton Business Alliance warned that unless all villages in Southampton Town adopt the same code, unfair competition would exist, as a switch from plastic bags to more costly paper bags would mean higher expenses for businesses.
Patricia Brodhagen, from the Food Industry Alliance in Albany, cited the additional costs of paper bags versus plastic for retailers. “There’s no wiggle room in our economics,” she said, adding costs will translate into higher prices for consumers.
In the village, Roger Blaugh of Southampton Advocates for the Village Environment, the village's "green" commitee", said the legislation is necessary because efforts to recycle bags in general have "been an abysmal failure. Really effective laws have to be put in place that requires us to do this.”
And, Blaugh added, the reusable bag program is popular in the village. “The government has a responsibility to its people, especially in areas where we live, where there are sensitive aquacultures,” upon which the local economy is based.
Bay bottoms are strewn with litter, he said. “We’ve got to eliminate it from its source.”
Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said the idea behind the legislation was to make a statement about the excessive use of plastic in the world “with growing landfills of our land and waterways.”