A — one of Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst’s championed — hit a major political road block Tuesday night.
The Southampton Town Board will not move forward with a Dec. 22 public hearing on the issue after a resolution to set the hearing failed by a vote of 3-2, with Councilmen Chris Nuzzi and Jim Malone and Councilwoman Nancy Graboski voting “no.” The Republican-Conservative troika axed the resolution after discussing how efforts for an educational pilot program, rather than a regulatory ban, foundered earlier this year.
“We’re asking to not have a public hearing, and to go to a work session,” Nuzzi said during the heated discussion on the legislation.
Throne-Holst’s next steps in tackling the project, brought to the board by the Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee, were unclear Wednesday morning. The legislation proposes banning all single-use plastic checkout bags less than 2 millimeters thick after a six-month educational campaign.
Throne-Holst said that the grocery store industry — whose representatives say it will have to grapple with new costs if the legislation passes — was not interested in a pilot educational program if she was still considering a ban.
But, education alone does not produce the decrease in plastic bag use the town ultimately desires, making a ban necessary, Throne-Holst said. Councilwoman Bridget Fleming co-sponsored the resolution after learning that much of the Southampton business community supports the ban, as shown by a survey.
Grocers were interested in a pilot program that would discourage the use of both plastic and paper bags, originally scheduled to kick-off in the late fall, said Patricia Brodhagen, the vice president for public and consumer affairs at the Albany-based Food Industry Alliance of New York State. The industry also wanted to measure the program’s impact.
But, grocers came to the understanding at an August meeting that Throne-Holst planned to enact a regulatory ban anyway. Because of costs, stores could not both comply with a ban as well as undertake a major educational program, Brodhagen said.
“We had to think whether or not it was an exercise in futility,” she added.
Brodhagen said that the ban could spark an uptick in the use of paper bags, which also have a negative environmental effect, are three times as expensive as plastic and could create $50,000 in new costs for stores. Grocers in general only have a net profit margin of 1 percent, so they would have to come up with $5 million in new sales to cover the new cost, she said.
That $5 million could come from a reduction in service at the stores, lost jobs or new costs to customers, she said.
Brodhagen said she had not heard about the status of educational program or regulatory ban until Friday’s work session.
“We would still be interested in an educational program,” Brodhagen said. “Bag reduction is good for everybody, but I don’t know where this will go next.”