By Mara Certic
The days of deciding between paper and plastic may be dwindling here on the East End, as local municipalities make plans to join together to enforce a regional ban on single-use plastic bags.
According to Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association is considering a ban on the bags that would span from Montauk Point to beyond the Shinnecock Canal.
Southampton and East Hampton Villages both banned the bags back in 2011, but none of the local towns have managed to adopt such a law thus far. Southampton Town has considered similar legislation in the past, but those discussions were initially struck down by the former Republican town board before they could be taken to public hearing.
Dieter von Lehsten, co-chair of Southampton’s Sustainability Committee, has been one of the people spearheading the movement to ban plastic. According to Mr. von Lehsten, the single-use plastic bag is the largest consumer item in the world.
In America, 105 billion single-use plastic bags are distributed every year; 23 million of those are given out in the Town of Southampton, and it is estimated that only 3ee to 4 percent of those bags are recycled, he said.
The rest of the bags are floating around, somewhere, Mr. von Lehsten said. Many of them get buried in landfills, but a large number of them are found in our bays and oceans.
A lot of plastic pollution shows up in large slow-moving currents called gyres. A large island of plastic has built up in the North Pacific Gyre. “In the center of this gyre sits an island, imagine twice the size of Texas,” Mr. von Lehsten said. According to Greenpeace, this trash island is made up “of everything from tiny pieces of plastic debris to large ghost nets lost by the fishing industry.”
Plastic contains toxic chemicals, which then get passed on to animals when they mistake the small petrochemical particles for food. According to Greenpeace, plastic often then accumulates in animals’ digestive tracts, essentially choking them. Sometimes, animals who mistakenly ingest plastic starve and die from a lack of nutrition. And now plastic has found its way into our food chain, Mr. von Lehsten said.
Mr. von Lehsten said he has been met by overwhelming support among community members and legislators when he has discussed this ban with individuals and civic associations.
“I had meetings in Southold, Shelter Island and East Hampton and talked to all councils in these areas and they are going to vote for the ban of the bag,” Mr. von Lehsten said to the members of the Bridgehampton Citizens Advisory Committee on September 22.
“It is now just a question, who makes the first step,” he said. “It is another one of those dances of the politicians.”
“So now we really want to force the issue,” Mr. von Lehsten said, and added he has started a letter campaign to get individuals and associations to ask the town boards to ban the bags.
The sustainability committee is suggesting the BYOB campaign—bring your own bag. One day, he would like to see a ban on all plastic and Styrofoam, he said, “but you’ve got to start somewhere, and the worst culprit is the single-use plastic bag.”
Mr. von Lehsten hinted heavily that he suspects public hearings on the matter to begin at some point in October. Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said a public hearing will be held in the first week of December in Southampton, with the hope of implementing the law by Earth Day, April 22, 2015.
After almost 100 municipalities in the Golden State prohibited the use of the synthetic bags, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the country’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags last week.