Hearing Scheduled For Tuesday March 19th At County Legislature
By Kimberly Redmond
Rockland County could become the latest in New York to ban single-use plastic bags, joining a growing movement across the country aimed at reducing litter.
At its March 19 meeting, the County Board of Legislators will consider adopting a measure to prohibit businesses from providing any kind of bag except a recycled paper one to customers at checkout. A public hearing will be held beforehand, according to Tuesday’s agenda.
Rockland would become the fourth county in the Empire State to enact laws targeting single-use plastic bags.
If the bill passes – and gains support from County Executive Ed Day – Rockland would become the fourth county in the Empire State to enact laws targeting single-use plastic bags.
While there is legislation pending at the state level, there’s no known time frame for when it could advance, which has prompted several counties, as well as municipalities, to implement measures aimed at reducing and eliminating carryout bags.
Within the last year, Dutchess, Ulster and Suffolk counties have rolled out legislation, while towns such as Piermont, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye and Hastings on Hudson have also adopted laws.
Sponsored by legislators Laurie Santulli and Nancy Low-Hogan, the bill would prohibit businesses in Rockland County from distributing checkout bags, which are defined as carryout plastic bags with handles.
The ban does not include newspaper bags, bags used to wrap produce, meat, fish or frozen food, trash can liners or bags used to package prescription drugs, laundry or dry cleaning.
Under the proposal, retailers would be barred from providing plastic carryout bags to customers and must provide recyclable ones at no charge. Enforcement of the law would be the responsibility of the county’s Office and Consumer Protection and businesses that don’t comply face anywhere from a $250 fine for the first violation to a $1,000 penalty for repeated violations.
In a summary accompanying the proposal, the bill’s sponsors, Santulli and Low-Hogan wrote that plastic bags “have become a major source of litter and pollution” in Rockland County and that “a shift to reusable bags and recyclable paper bags is a better alternative.”
Within Rockland, an average of 2,130 tons of single-use plastic bags are either thrown away in the trash or onto the sides of roadways annually, earning the county a spot on the state’s top eight places that discard plastic bags, according to the bills’ sponsors.
In their summary, Santulli and Low-Hogan said, “They can be found stuck in trees, litter our neighborhood, destroy wildlife, clog storm drains, float into and end up in our waterways and fill landfills. This is especially concerning given that the Hudson River runs along the county’s eastern border…Moreover, these bags are extremely problematic because they create tangles and jams in recycling and waste water processing equipment, making it time consuming and costly for municipalities and recycling centers to manage.”
Environmental advocates say plastic bags are one the biggest sources of litter and can harm wildlife, as well as water quality. However, opponents to such measures believe the regulation could drive up costs for local businesses, which would eventually trickle down to consumers.
In the U.S., California is the only one with a plastic ban in place, though several states, such as Connecticut and Washington, are considering laws. Other states have focused more on implementing recycling programs or initiating fees to discourage the use of plastic bags altogether.
Within Rockland County, Piermont recently enacted its own laws prohibiting single-use bags. The waterfront village was the first in the county to pass legislation to encourage the use of reusable bags.
Bruce Tucker, Piermont’s mayor, said, “Most of our businesses are in favor of it and we’ve gotten good reception on it. Most understood what the problem is and we’ve gotten a lot of cooperation. Most didn’t mind.”
As a mostly residential community, Piermont just has a handful of businesses affected by the ban, but Tucker said it was implemented in hopes that other towns, the county and eventually the state would follow suit.
“We passed our law last September, but it didn’t kick in until Jan. 1. We wanted to give businesses with an inventory of bags a chance to work down their inventories. But, as of Jan. 1, no retailer or restaurant is allowed to hand out anything in single-use plastic bags,” he said.
Businesses who don’t comply will receive a warning for the first instance of non-compliance. After that, the fine is $150 per day.
“We don’t have a supermarket. We have restaurants and some convenience stores. We knew going into this that in terms of the impact on the environment it would be minimal because it’s such a small village,” Tucker said.
“We’re all for the ban in Rockland. We’re hoping it’ll pass, the county executive will sign it and make all of Rockland a plastic bag free zone,” Tucker said.