On April 22, Earth Day, plastic grocery bags will be banned on the South Fork, with both East Hampton and Southampton towns prohibiting them by law.
There is no movement here to get rid of plastic bags, which research has shown are ecologically hazardous, especially to coastal communities when the bags drift into waterways.
Instead, the town’s Green Options Advisory Committee is proposing to give residents “a choice,” as committee Chairman Tim Purtell told the Town Board at its work session Tuesday. That choice is to shop with reusable, non-plastic bags that will either be sold or given away on the Island.
Mr. Purtell said there would be no town or tax dollars used in the campaign. The committee is speaking with a corporate sponsor that would foot the bill for the bags, but Mr. Purtell didn’t want to name the company “until it’s absolutely firm” there will be funding for the bags.
A couple of designs were introduced to the board for the Shelter Island reusable bag, both using the image of an osprey flying over a map of the Island with a logo of, “Bring Your Own Bag,” or “This Bag is Better!” Both designs also include, “keep Shelter Island Green.”
Noting that we’ve all become used to the convenience of single use plastic grocery bags, Mr. Purtell said “what’s not convenient is their proliferation over the decades.”
Research has shown that 100 billion plastic bags are thrown away annually in the United States and that they don’t biodegrade, but travel through ecosystems where they cause irreparable damage. Mr. Purtell showed photographs of ospreys and other birds that are harmed or killed locally, by either eating the plastic, feeding it to their chicks or using plastic bags as part of their nests. On a worldwide level, he spoke of ocean “gyres,” or huge islands of plastic trash in the Pacific and Atlantic.
Close to 200 municipalities across the country have banned the bags. A statewide law banning bags in California was slated to begin in July, but a well-organized campaign by the plastics industry secured enough petitions to put the issue to a public referendum that will take place in November 2016.
When Southampton Village instituted a ban three years ago, it was commended by the New York State Department of Conservation for “environmental excellence.” According to the DEC, the ordinance achieved a 98 percent compliance rate and eliminated about 110,000 plastic bags in a year. Scientific American has reported that when Ireland banned bags more than a decade ago, there was a 95 percent reduction in plastic bag litter, and a study done by San Jose, California found that litter was reduced by 85 percent on land and 60 percent in creeks and rivers.
Mr. Purtell said paper was not a good option to replace plastic since, although it is degradable at the end of its cycle, manufacturing paper consumes enormous amounts of energy and reduces tree populations.
Why not a proposal to ban bags here? One source close to the initiative, who didn’t want to be named, said many Islanders would resist a ban since it would be imposed by a government edict.
Councilwoman Chris Lewis said a voluntary campaign is a “great idea” and was pleased the committee is “not talking about a ban.”
No board member proposed there be a discussion on banning plastic bags.
Mr. Purtell said the educational campaign will include informational tables at locations around town, including the school, somewhere in the Center and the Heights and at the Shelter Island Farmer’s Market this spring and summer where the bags will be available. The IGA is also on board to provide space where the reusable bags will be available as well as information on the benefits of using them.