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Suffolk lawmakers delay taking action on plastic bag ban — again


Suffolk County residents hopeful for a decision regarding a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags at retail stores across the county will have to keep waiting.

During a Thursday meeting at the County Center in Riverside, the Suffolk County Legislature health committee voted unanimously to table a resolution on the bill, which was introduced in early March, but has yet to be voted on since.

“Very hot-topic issue,” said Dr. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who sponsored the legislation. “We have some amendments that we are putting in place which will require us to have a public hearing on this, so we are going to table.”

During the meeting, Dr. Spencer didn’t specify what those amendments entail. Five people, all of whom expressed support for the proposed ban, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Among them was Dr. Nancy Pearson of Southold, a member of the board of directors of the North Fork Audubon Society.

“It is estimated that over one million birds and 100,000 marine animals die unnecessarily each year from plastic debris,” said Dr. Pearson, who noted that plastic bags “do not biodegrade.”

“They photo-degrade, contaminating our soils and waterways by breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces,” she said. “These microscopic pieces never fully disintegrate and in certain areas outcompete plankton as a non-nutrient food source in our world’s oceans.”

Marine scientist Kevin McAllister, founder and president of water quality advocacy group Defend H20, called the number of plastic bags stuck in tree branches and scattered on local beaches “omnipresent.”

“I’m here to say, ‘Don’t let this legislation languish,’” Mr. McAllister told county legislators. “It’s the right thing.”

Since 2014, Southold Town residents have signed petitions and spoken at Town Board meetings to express support for a town-wide ban on plastic bags. In October, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he would support a town-wide ban if Riverhead Town did too. Critics of the idea have said a town-wide ban would place an unfair burden on business owners, driving customers to stores in neighboring towns with no ban.

Mr. Russell said a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags would be ideal. Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter has echoed that position.

Southampton and East Hampton Towns, as well as several villages within those towns, have enacted bans of single-use plastic bags of their own.

“It’s my understanding that businesses have to purchase these plastic bags — they essentially give them out for free,” said Matt Campbell of Southold, who spoke at Thursday’s meeting. “If I go into places like IGA or supermarkets, IGA sells [reusable bags] for 99 cents.

“It lasts 10, 20, 30 visits to the store,” he added. “To me, it’s at least a breakeven for the stores, if not a cost savings.”

The Suffolk County Legislature health committee will next meet later this month in Hauppauge to discuss the capital budget.

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Photo: A discarded plastic bag along Main Road in Mattituck. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)