The Southampton Town Board heard from a parade of supporters of a townwide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags during the first public hearing on the measure last week.
Proponents, including one woman who had draped herself in a rustling gown made from hundreds of the plastic bags—330 to be exact, the number estimated to be used by one person, on average, each year—applauded the proposed ban and the huge numbers of bags it would keep out of local landfills, as well as tree branches and water bodies.
“Almost three years ago, a different Town Board sat in your seats,—the subject was whether or not to allow the public comment on this legislation,” said one advocate, Tip Rowland of Water Mill. “That delay has cost us 50 million plastic bags in the landfill and litter—50,000 plastic bags per day that end up that way.”
In 2011, the Town Board, then led by a majority coalition of Republican and Conservative members, blocked legislation banning the single-use plastic bags that, at the time, had been recently outlawed in Southampton and East Hampton villages. The board instead spurred a public outreach and education drive, led by Republican Councilwoman Christine Scalera, which she has touted as successful in reducing the use of the bags and spurring recycling.
But with last year’s election of Independence Party member Brad Bender, who openly supported such a ban during his campaign, many thought that the new board majority—which also now includes Ms. Throne-Holst, another Independence Party member, and Democratic Councilwoman Bridget Fleming—would immediately renew the push for the legislation.
But Ms. Throne-Holst pressed the board to put off any action until more surrounding municipalities could be brought on board with the initiative. East Hampton Town is now holding hearings on its own townwide ban, and Riverhead Town, as well as a number of villages, are expected to introduce ban legislation soon.
There remains some resistance to the proposal in Southampton Town. Ms. Scalera and first-year Councilman Stan Glinka, also a Republican, have said they still do not support a townwide ban. There was some industry pushback as well: An attorney for the Food Industry Alliance of New York said the ban could be unconstitutional, while also alleging that such legislation, which would force a broader use of paper bags, would be more harmful to the environment.
Hampton Bays Stop & Shop manager Willa Kagan said her store has worked hard to reduce the number of plastic bags it gives out and that end up as trash by posting recycling collection bins and selling reusable bags that cost just 10 cents each and are good for up to 10 uses. But, she said, the store would prefer to continue its education efforts rather than ban plastic bags.
“It’s horrible to drink and drive, but we’re not closing bars and banning alcohol,” Ms. Kagan said. “I think we should educate.”
But opponents were in the minority at last month’s hearing—and far short in the drama of their pitch.
“Do you want to see what 330 bags looks like? I’m wearing it,” said Lynn Arthur of Southampton, who wore a plastic bag fashioned into a bonnet as the topper to a flowing gown made from plastic bags.
Ms. Arthur also pointed out that despite all of the recent educational and recycling efforts, the number of plastic bags ending up in landfills has only been cut by about 20 percent. “That’s this much,” she said, pulling off the clump of bags that had made up one sleeve of her gown and tossing it onto the floor in front of the board members.
Michael Anthony of Westhampton held up the well-worn cloth tote that he said he has used for his groceries for the past three years, saying he finds a boost of pride each time he leaves the store.
“I probably have not used 2,000 to 3,000 bags over the last few years, and if it extended a turtle’s life, or extended the useful life of a transfer station, or put a bottle of motor oil back on a shelf, I feel like I contributed,” he said. “I’m thinking about something more than me. I’m thinking if you pass this law everybody can do our little part. Everybody can feel as good as I do when I leave Waldbaum’s.”
With three of the five board members strongly in support of the ban, and public opposition faint, the board closed the public hearing, though, at the request of Ms. Scalera, written comments are being accepted for the next 20 days.
Ms. Throne-Holst, in applauding the efforts over the last three years of her political counterpart, said education would continue to be an important component of the town’s efforts. However, the supervisor added that such an initiative can only go so far, and that legislation is needed to further reduce the amount of plastic entering landfills and littering roadsides.
“I appreciate that businesses tell you they are careful about how they dispose of these bags, that they recycle—but why do you even have to recycle something?” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “Why even put something in the waste stream? Why use these chemicals to manufacture them in the first place?
“It’s simply a cycle that has to be broken,” she continued. “I don’t think we should stop here. We should go on to Styrofoam that we know will never degrade and will remain in our waste stream and on our shores forever.”