The Town Board appears split on a plastic shopping bag ban in Riverhead Town — last pitched to the board in May of this year — which was discussed in town hall last Thursday, and could be subject to an inter-municipal agreement with other towns and villages in the area.
Dieter Von Lehsten, the co-chair of Southampton Town’s Sustainability Committee, spoke at the work session to try and convince Riverhead to ban single use plastic shopping bags, something Southampton Town is considering and Southampton Village and East Hampton Village have done.
In May, members of the East End Supervisor’s Association said that they were aiming to pass an East End-wide plastic bag ban by Earth Day of 2015. Mr. Von Lehsten has since been making the rounds to East End towns and villages, trying to convince them to enact the ban.
Riverhead Councilman John Dunleavy and Mr. Wooten said they both support the plastic bag ban, while Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said she wants to have a public hearing before deciding.
“Plastic bags are hurting our ecology,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “They don’t disintegrate.”
He said three large box stores in town — BJ’s Warehouse, Costco and Aldi — now ban plastic bags.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said that he’s already getting calls from the New York State Supermarket Retailers Association asking whether Riverhead plans to ban plastic shopping bags.
The supervisor believes there will be a lawsuit if the bag ban is enacted.
Mr. Von Lehsten said there has been no lawsuits filed against Southampton Village and East Hampton Village, which both adopted the ban in 2011.
“They don’t have the level of retailers that Riverhead does,” Mr. Walter said, alluding to the large national chain stores on Route 58. “The lawsuit is going to happen.”
He suggested the five East End towns start a defense fund to pay the cost of any legal fees associated with a lawsuit challenging the plastic bags.
He feels the ban should be done on a county level, and not by individual towns.
“The single largest consumer item globally are single used plastic bags,” Mr. Von Lehsten said, quoting from various scientific studies. “We are using, by the lowest estimates, 500 billion to one trillion bags annually. That is a lot of plastic bags. And considering that these things never totally disintegrate, it is a gigantic environmental and health problem for us.”
He said the country goes through over 100 billion bags annually, and Southampton Town, uses 23 million bags annually.
“Only four to seven percent are recycled, and the rest goes into landfills or the ocean,” he said.