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Paper or Cloth? Southampton Town Seeks to Ban Plastic Bags

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By Claire Walla

“In my opinion, we’re going to look back at this and question why we didn’t do this earlier,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said to her fellow council members.

Throne-Holst was speaking at a town board work session last Friday, December 9 in reference to a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags throughout the town of Southampton.

“I think the entire world is moving in this direction,” added Throne-Holst, a stanch proponent of the measure.

The proposal to ban plastic bags in the town of Southampton comes nearly six months after the first work session was held on the matter. In that time, the town’s sustainability committee chairman Tip Brolin sought more information from the town’s business community and consumers, specifically addressing concerns many businesses initially expressed regarding the high price of replacing plastic with recyclable paper.

The town’s proposed plastic ban initially would effectively ban single-use plastic bags less than two mils thick, and less than 28 inches by 36 inches in size. Smaller plastic bags — like those used to hold fish and produce — would not be affected by the ban.

The legislation also originally included provisions that would have allowed stores to carry paper bags made of 40 percent recyclable materials, a stipulation that essentially mirrors similar legislation already enacted in Westport, Conn. (Most grocery stores use paper bags that are made of 30 percent recyclable materials.)

“I do generally agree with the fact that we need to get greener,” said Debbie Longnecker of Cromer’s Market on Noyac Road.

However, she expressed some concern with the added price tag associated with purchasing reusable bags and paper bags.

At one point, she explained, “We gave reusable bags away. However, not everyone brings them back.”

She said the store’s winter clientele is more inclined to get into the habit of consistently bringing reusable bags when they shop. But she said it’s a different story with the summer people who are in the area for a short period of time and less inclined to bring their own bags when they shop.

“I think a lot more planning has to be done before [this law is enacted],” she added. “There needs to be a cost-effective alternative before you say to people: You can’t do this anymore.”

Partially quelling Longnecker’s concern, Brolin explained last week that the proposed legislation will in fact allow stores to use the less expensive paper bags made of 30 percent recyclable materials. Plus, he added that follow-up surveys with nearly 1,700 shoppers in Westport, Conn. revealed that 53 percent were consistently using reusable bags after the plastic ban went into effect. Brolin compared this number to the nearby Norwalk/Wilton area — which has not implemented a plastic bag ban — where the number is closer to 10 percent.

Should Southampton Town decide to implement legislation that bans single-use plastic bags, it would follow in the footsteps of both Southampton Village, which banned plastic last spring, and East Hampton Village, which adopted similar legislation last month. The legislation proposed for the town would essentially be the same as that adopted in the Village of Southampton, except that paper bags would only have to be made with 30 percent recyclable materials as opposed to 40 percent.

Before adopting the legislation, Brolin reported that the town initially discussed promoting the use of reusable shopping bags by educating the community on the harms of single-use plastic bags — the fact that most of the bags are not recycled and are piling up in landfills and littering the oceans, thereby potentially harming at least 260 different sea species. However, Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said that after a lackluster response from the business community, she feels the best tactic at this point is to adopt the legislation and spend six months before the policy is enacted making residents aware of this change.

According to Liz Plouff, the town’s sustainability coordinator, education will come in the way of press releases and conferences, as well as a partnership with SeaTV, the town government television channel. In addition, Plouff has suggested the town hand-out reusable bags to town residents at no charge. She said the town could finance this measure by getting local stores and businesses to pay a small fee in exchange for getting their logos printed on the bags.

The town board will hold its first official public hearing on the proposed plastic bag legislation on Thursday, December 22.