Riverhead Town not into banning plastic bags

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Recyclable grovery bags

Southampton Village recently passed a law banning plastic shopping bags in stores, and officials in Southampton Town and East Hampton Village have reportedly discussed enacting such a law as well.

The Southampton Town Board is scheduled to discuss the issue at a work session on Friday and some environmental activists have said they hope Riverhead Town will follow suit.

Not a chance.

Four of the five Riverhead Town Board members said in interviews this week that they’d opposed a ban on plastic shopping bags.

The Southampton Village law, approved in late May, states that “any person engaged in retail sales shall provide only reusable bags and/or recyclable paper bags as checkout bags to customers,” and exempts plastic produce bags or plastic bags measuring 28 inches by 36 inches or larger in size.

“Non-biodegradable plastic bags often are discarded into the environment and end up polluting waterways, clogging sewers, endangering marine life and causing unsightly litter,” the law states. “These bags last hundreds of years in landfills and are a potential source of harmful chemicals when they break down.”

Former Riverhead Councilman George Bartunek, who now heads the town’s anti-litter committee, has made several presentations to the Town Board about the problems caused by plastic bags, as have students from Riverhead High School’s Key Club.

But Councilman Jim Wooten was the only Town Board member interviewed who did not oppose banning the plastic bags outright.

“I’m not opposed to exploring it,” Mr. Wooten said. “All you have to do is walk along the highway and you see where all the plastic bags are winding up.”

He said the Town Board has discussed such a measure in the past, and “it was not too well-received.”
“I’d be interested in seeing what the other towns and villages are doing,” Mr. Wooten said. “I understand where they’re coming from, I just don’t know what the alternative is.”

He said he reuses plastic bags in his house, but that they all will eventually end up in the trash.

“I’m against a total ban,” Councilman George Gabrielsen said. “I would like to see us encourage the use of paper bags because it’s biodegradable. But I don’t think a total ban on plastic bags is practical. I think they’re dreaming a little bit.”

Mr. Gabrielsen said he reuses plastic bags at his farm. He said he feels it’s not practical to carry reusable bags around because sometimes people buy 20 bags worth of groceries.

“Environmentalists can’t have it both ways,” he said. “They’re against plastics but they don’t want to cut down trees. They don’t have a reasonable, practical option.”

He also said reusable bags can get dirty and present a health hazard.

Supervisor Sean Walter said he, too, reuses plastic shopping bags as garbage bags, and opposes a ban.

“I find it ironic that people buy plastic bags as liners for garbage cans and many of those same people want us to ban plastic shopping bags,” he said. “I reuse those plastic bags for my garbage and my recyclables.”

Mr. Walter also said he has problems with reusable canvas bags.

“When my wife brings home plastic bags, the meat is oozing out all over the bag,” he said. “If you’re using reusable canvas bags and that happens, there’s health risks associated with that. I’d rather concentrate on getting every resident to pick up one piece of litter every day than worry about banning plastic shopping bags.”

“I think that government should play a limited role and it should be up to the business owner to determine what’s feasible for them in order to operate their business,” Councilwoman Jodi Giglio said. “Government should not be legislating what they can hand their product out in.”

She said the town should have receptacles where used plastic bags can be collected and made available for things like picking up dog waste.

“I don’t think we should do it; I’m against it,” Councilman John Dunleavy said of such a ban.

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