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Pols: No Urgency for North Fork Plastic Bag Ban

While an online petition recently started up to ban plastic bags in Southold and Greenport, politicians say a ban could put local businesses at a disadvantage with enough competition coming from other towns already.

Over a year after , with , a similar effort is being made on the North Fork to rid the bags from retail establishments.

But where the effort has succeeded in breaking through at the village level on the South Fork, so far it stalled at the town levels: the idea has not gained traction in East Hampton Town Hall, and Southampton Town Board members . And Southold Town or Village of Greenport plastic bag ban appears headed toward a similar fate, at least in the current political and economic environment.

"The town is concerned about the economic leakage that would result in a ban," said Supervisor Scott Russell. Russell said he met in late July with members of the business community, as well as politicians, from both Southold and Greenport.

Russell went on: "If there is a ban in Southold, and competitors in Riverhead have no such ban, is that something that would be pushing our customer base away from our local businesses? It wouldn't be fair."

Paul Stoutenburgh, the grandson of former a Town Councilman of the same name well known for his effort to promote sustainable practices, has started a petition to urge Southold and Greenport to enact a ban. Stoutenburgh has gained the support of the , the , , and over 150 others. The goal is to get 800 signatures and increase a presence in town hall, pushing for a ban in both Southold and Greenport.

While Stoutenburgh said he recognizes the economic impact it may have, those predictions could just be worst-case scenarios, and action has to start at some level.

"From what I'm hearing, a lot of people have faith that locals will continue to shop at the small businesses here. This isn't going to make people drive to Riverhead," said Stoutenburgh. 

With a ban on single-use plastic bags, local businesses would have a couple of different options: train customers to use re-usable bags, or offer paper bags - which come at a higher cost.

Charles Reichert owns Greenport and Southold IGA grocery stores, and said a ban on plastic could cost each store up to $60,000 per year. Employing about 100 people between both shops is hard enough, said Reichert, who owns five in total on Long Island. He said adding such a regulation when competition is at its highest ever - between box stores in Rivehread, and the proliferation of convenience stores and growth of chain pharmacies - could prove to be one that would severely damage the North Fork business community.

So instead, Russell, Nyce, Reichert are hoping to gain support for a county-wide ban - or even a statewide one. Russell said he plans on seeking support at an upcoming meeting of the East End Supervisors and Mayors Association.

This, they say, would level the playing field for the entire business community while moving toward the goal of promoting sustainable practices. Reichert said he's confident that should Suffolk County enact a ban, Nassau would follow suit. However a proposal at the county level last year from Legis. Vivian Viloria, D-East Setauket, fell flat, never even making it up for a vote.

In the meantime Stoutenburgh said he's still working on obtaining the grassroots support necessary for local passage.

"You have to start somewhere," he said. "I have a feeling if they try to pass this at the county level, it's something that can be pushed off in a similar way. Someone could say we can't do it countywide because another county isn't doing it."

Greenport Mayor David Nyce said that while he and his wife personally use re-usable bags, the economic disadvantage could prove to be more than it's worth. So though he doesn't foresee a legislative ban coming on the North Fork anytime soon, a petition to ban the bags could at least be a step in the right direction.

"I think this should be a combination of a grassroots effort and some legislation. The first main step is that awareness is raised first."

thatgirl September 01, 2012 at 05:42 PM
"economic leakage?" it's all well and good to try to quantify "loss" of business in banning plastic bags, but how can you prove that consumers will take their business elsewhere when you haven't asked them? while i sympathise the fear of retailers, it's not wise to only gauge viability of a ban via their "best guesses." put the matter to a referendum. in such a car-dominated culture as the north fork's, most people going to a grocery store to buy, say, over four items will probably drive. and if they drive, they can learn to keep their reusable bags in their cars, at the ready for shopping. like separating recycling, people can adopt more easily than they're often given credit!
Bob Bittner September 01, 2012 at 07:40 PM
I don't get it! --- people recyle these bags --- why come up with another regulation? It's like the deposit law on some plastic and glass containers. Why do we have this anymore? Isn't everyone requred to separate all plastic and glasst and then recycle it? Just go to the transfer station piles of plastic and glass with no deposit on them. Why do we still have a deposit on plastic and glass? Its regulation has served its purpost and isn't needed anymore. It just wastes peoples time on lines bring the things back. Much more simpler to reduce the price and just recycle as we all do with plastic and glass that we dont leave a deposit on.... Stupid is as stupid does..
Ed September 29, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Single-Use Plastic bags should be banned. For more information, or to sign our petition log on to: http://www.change.org/petitions/southold-plastic-bag-ban

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