Suffolk County’s tax on single-use paper and plastic bags draws mixed reviews

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By Kara Burnett and Desirae Gooding

Suffolk County lawmakers approved a 5-cent fee on single-use paper and plastic bags early last month. The law, set to encourage consumers, to use reusable bags has prompted mixed reviews from businesses, consumers, and environmental groups.

Legislators passed the bill of a vote 13-4. Businesses and retailers who fail to collect the tax will be fined $500 once the bill goes into effect Jan. 1st, 2018.

Patchogue Village is the only area on Long Island where there is a plastic bag ban instead of a tax that has been implemented as of Sept. 6, 2016.

“It’s hard for my customers to adjust to. We told them to bring their own bag and they won’t have to pay the ten cents for plastic bags,” Jose Bonilla, owner of Bravo Supermarket in Patchogue, said.

“This bill is designed to benefit both the environment and economy,” Jordan Christensen, Program Coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said.

Christensen spearheaded the organization’s efforts to prevent plastic pollution and is largely responsible for the Suffolk bill.  She claims that the packaging fee will actually save stores money allowing consumers to choose, for the first time, whether or not to pay the price of the bags.

“Plastic bags cost 1-2 cents, while paper costs 5-10 cents per bag,” Christensen said.

“US retailers spend $4 billion a year on these bags, and we pay for this in the price of our groceries.  We also pay for this with our tax dollars, as municipalities have to spend money cleaning plastic bags out of storm drains, removing litter, and disposing of these bags.”

Single mother of three and Port Jefferson resident, Lana Styman, says she is fed up with excessive taxes on the already pricey cost of living on Long Island.

“There has to be another way,” she said. “I pay hundreds of dollars on groceries, and don’t even get me started on the taxes I pay just to live in Suffolk.”

Imperial Bag and Paper is the largest distributor of food packaging in the North East, stocking primarily green products.“I think that reusable bags are great, not enough people use them,” he said. “There are other viable alternatives to harmful packaging.”said David Pokorny, the distributor’s Food Packaging Expert, said.

Poly-Pak Industries creates retail shopping bags, and other packaging, from previously discarded plastics. Because the Melville-based company is national in scope, there is little worry about whether or not workers will keep their jobs. However, laws much like Suffolk’s five-cent fee are catching on around the country.

Ken Trottere, Vice President of Poly-Pac, says that the law’s effect on the public is what troubles him and that a charge for plastic bags doesn’t make any practical sense.

“I think it will have a negative effect on our local businesses in general, but it will affect our customers much more.” he said. Because Poly-Pak’s customers are specialty retail stores, rather than supermarkets, Trottere claims that customers are going to object to the idea of paying any amount for something once given away for free.

As the law does not account for other plastic waste, Trottere said that it will only work to solve a small part of a larger problem. “Half the foods you buy in the store today are covered in plastic.” he said, “… but this law does nothing to address any of that. It just singles out this tiny percentage of waste-stream — what ends up in the landfill — and tries to purport that it’s going to solve some major environmental problem, and clearly it’s not.”