Just over a month after the Southampton Town Board tabled a resolution to institute a ban on plastic bags, a majority of members of the Bridgehampton Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) voted this week to send a letter to the board showing their support the legislation and urging lawmakers to revive plans to move forward with the law.
On Monday night, Bridgehampton CAC member Jeff Mansfield raised the issue, questioning why the town would ever table a measure that on its face appeared to make so much sense.
“I like to consider myself an environmentalist, and just reading about this, it just makes sense,” said Mansfield, noting the East End’s greatest economic driver is its pristine waterways and beachfront, and untouched vistas of open space and farmland.
“I think we should be talking about this because it does not seem like they are talking about this in town hall right now,” said Mansfield.
Mansfield added that he feels the input and support of Bridgehampton residents was critical, as the hamlet is home to King Kullen, one of the larger grocery stores in the unincorporated neighborhoods in Southampton. Only those areas, not the villages in Southampton, would be subject to the legislation.
The town’s sustainability committee, led by Tip Brolin, first floated the proposal in the town last June.
The ban proposed to prohibit single-use plastic bags no less than two mils thick and less than 28-inches by 36-inches in size at store check-out counters. Smaller bags, like the ones found in the produce aisle of most grocery stores, or at the deli and fish counters, would not be subject to the ban.
The original proposal also included a provision that would allow stores to carry paper bags, in addition to re-useable bags, for customers provided they were made out of 40-percent recyclable materials. However, the provision was scaled back by December to allow paper bags that are made of 30-percent recyclable materials, as is commonly found at most grocery stores.
Brolin presented research to the town board that showed similar legislation in Westport, Conn. was successful, with 53-percent of shoppers polled using re-usable bags once the ban was in effect, compared to the neighboring community of Norwalk and Walton, which showed just 10-percent of shoppers used re-usable bags at the grocery store.
Brolin also pointed out that the use of plastic bags results in environmental damage, littering waterways and open spaces, impacting animal life, while also piling up in landfills.
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst planned to roll out a six-month campaign prior to the ban taking effect to educate the public on when the ban would take place and what options were available outside of plastic bags.
If adopted, Southampton Town would have become the third municipality on the South Fork to ban plastic bags. Bans have been enacted in both East Hampton and Southampton Villages. While the issue has been raised by members of the public at the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees, no legislation has been introduced that would ban plastic bags in Sag Harbor.
However, Supervisor Throne-Holst was never able to push the legislation through after a Republican majority on the town board voted to not even host a public hearing on the law in December.
Councilmen Chris Nuzzi and Jim Malone were supported by now former councilwoman Nancy Grabowski — a Bridgehampton resident — in their desire to halt the public hearing. Instead, they were in favor of working with the business community to mount a public education campaign to promote the benefits of using re-usable bags.
Supervisor Throne-Holst and councilwoman Bridget Fleming, who pointed to statistics that showed these kinds of campaigns were ineffective, rebuked the majority, but they remained overruled.
On Wednesday morning, Jennifer Garvey, a spokeswoman for Supervisor Throne-Holst, said the supervisor was still committed to the idea of a plastic bag ban.
“When we met with the industry folks, everyone was in agreement that we should be using less plastic,” said Garvey. “The question is how we get there. Anna does not believe the education campaign will work, although we are willing to do it.”
Garvey added that the Supervisor came to this position based on Brolin and the Green committee’s extensive research into other municipalities that have and have not instituted similar bans.
Whether or not the issue ever comes to a head, she added, largely rests in the hands of new town councilwoman Christine Scalera, a Republican who has vowed to be a liaison to the committee that will lead the development of the educational campaign.
Scalera was not immediately available for comment.
However, for members of the Bridgehampton CAC that the issue appeared to be split along party lines was unacceptable. Mansfield questioned the real financial impact it would have on retailers. He argued most customers on the East End would be more than happy to pay a few extra cents to cover the cost of using a paper bag at a grocery store, or even buy re-usable bags, if it meant keeping the environment pristine.
“I think that would be money most of us in the community would spend to have this amount of pollution reduced,” said Mansfield.
“If I were in government, I would just do it,” agreed CAC secretary Richard Bruce. “It seems to me there are more people than grocery store owners so I think we should be able to win the day.”
CAC member Weezie Quimby said that member Ian MacPherson, unable to attend the meeting, was opposed to ban, citing the convenience, particularly for the elderly, in having plastic bags to carry groceries in.
CAC member Michael Kabot added the true cost for retailers to switch from plastic to paper and re-usable bags has not been fully explored. He did not believe it was the business of government to tell him what kind of bag he can use at the grocery store.
CAC member Peter Wilson said that while he was in favor of the idea, it may be industry leaders are controlling the discussion and that retailers are worried about the effect the ban would have on summer colony patrons, not the year-round community.
“There must be some political influences at play,” said CAC co-chair Stephen Steinberg. “I can assure you if Bridgehampton was a village we would have passed it right away.”