Huntington residents have a wide range of opinions when it comes to the Suffolk County law that requires them to either supply their own bag or pay 5 cents for a plastic or paper bag at a store checkout. But overall, the new requirement seems to be popular.
Most residents seem ready to comply and some are even happy about helping out in this small way to improve the environment and reduce the amount of plastic ending up on the road or in trash.
The plastic bag law, which returns the 5 cents to the store, is a big adjustment for all. For many, it’s something they have to get used to and remember to bring a bag with them or pay extra.
Nancy Vaccaro of Huntington Station said that even though she thinks the new law is a good thing, she often leaves her reusable bags at home and pays the five cents for the plastic bags in the store. “I’ve left the register a few times to run out to the car to get them. If I do remember to bring them, I forget them in the car.”
Carol Rupert of Huntington remarked, “I’m trying to get used to it. Half the time I leave my bag in the car, but I think it’s a good thing on the whole. We don’t need all that plastic and I’m tired of having those big bundles of plastic bags to bring back all the time, so I’m in favor of it. I don’t object to it at all. It’s a good thing for the environment. We’ll get used to it.”
Doug, a young man on his way into Huntington Village’s Stop ‘n Shop who preferred not to give his full name, said, “I think if we use bags that we have already, it’s a good thing. It’s just plastic bags. We can do it.”
Constance Cuttitta of Huntington Station remarked, “We need to stop using so much plastic and I’m happy to do whatever I can.”
On the other hand, there are some who are clearly irked by the new law. Devin McGowan, who was leaving a King Kullen in Huntington Station, was eager to share his dissatisfaction. “I hate it,” he said. “I refuse to pay for plastic bags on the matter of principle. We’ve never had to pay for them before, so I don’t understand why we do now.” McGowan prefers to carry his items out from the store without a bag and doesn’t own a reusable tote. “I understand the reusable bags are convenient and if I had a bag on me right now I’d use it. If I had a really big load, I’d probably put all my items in a cart and bring them out like that.”
Joseph W. Brown, senior vice president and chief merchandising officer at King Kullen, said, “We run reports showing how many plastic bags have been shipped to the stores compared to how many were shipped prior to the new bag fee on paper and plastic. The bill has worked extremely well in reducing bag usage. We have experienced a 75% decline. The Suffolk bill should be a model for the state as opposed to the bill recently announced in Albany. A plastic ban without a fee for paper is not nearly as effective as the Suffolk bill.
He said that a law in Southampton led to a smaller decline in bag usage, while driving costs up because paper wasn’t covered. “In addition,” he said,”paper bags are a significant burden to the environment in production and transportation. Paper bags require seven times the amount of truckloads to deliver the same amount of plastic bags and require far greater resources and energy to produce.”
From the perspective of the stores, it is clear that the law is definitely making a difference.
A cashier named Jimmy Chang who works at a King Kullen in Huntington Station, and speaking only for himself, said that he noticed a significant decrease in the amount of plastic bags that are bought by customers. “I’ve been working as a cashier for six years and I see the immediate result. Customers bring their own bags or if they don’t have bags, they just carry things with their hands. I’m surprised that we could save that many plastic bags. The new law really works. My opinion is that I see the result every day and it’s great. We save a lot of plastic as well as paper bags.” When Chang goes shopping, he uses his own reusable bags.
Data from a recent survey conducted by Citizens Campaign for the Environment measured the effectiveness of the law and demonstrated that people are responding well. The use of plastic bags has dropped over 40 percent since November of 2017 and the use of paper bags has also slightly decreased. The use of reusable bags in that time has increased from 5 to 43 percent.
Some residents have an issue with the five cent fee because the money stays with the store. Lana of Huntington Station, who chose not to give her full name, said, “I think the law is a good idea. What I don’t like about it is that it should be a store expense. The store should be paying for the bags. My nickel shouldn’t go back to the store. It should go to an environmental cause or something worthwhile.” Lana added, “I reuse the plastic bags if I take one – in the bathroom, to pick up dog poop, and for baby diapers.”
Erica Cirino, science writer who specializes in wildlife, environmental conservation, biology and policy, shares, “Plastic bags are pervasive in the natural environnment on the Island, where they easily blow into coastal habitats and forestland,posing a threat to wildlife and the ecosystems they depend upon to survive. Suffolk County is home to about 1.5 million people, and most of those people use plastic bags.
Just three weeks into the new law going into effect, Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer said it had started to show “dramatic results.”
In a Facebook video, Spencer said two prominent grocery stores in Suffolk County reported 50 and 80 percent decreases in plastic bag use
as people switch to reusable bags to avoid the fee. That’s a huge decrease that translates into a cleaner environment. According to scientists, plastic bag fees greatly reduce the amount of plastic pollution in the oceans. That’s a very positive finding.”
At a special presentation at Suffolk County’s Health Committee on April 20, Spencer said, “As a county that is surrounded by beaches and bays and relies on our sole source aquifer for our drinking water, we have to find ways to protect our shorelines, our water resources and the health of our residents.”