Suffolk County residents hoping for a decision regarding a proposed ban on single-use plastic bags at retail stores across the county will have to keep waiting.
During a May 5 meeting at the County Center in Riverside, the Suffolk County Legislature Health Committee voted unanimously to table a resolution on the bill, which was introduced in early March, but has not come to a vote.
“Very hot-topic issue,” said Dr. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who sponsored the legislation. “We have some amendments that we are putting in place that will require us to have a public hearing on this, so we are going to table.”
During the meeting, Dr. Spencer didn’t specify what those amendments entail. Five people, all of whom expressed support for the proposed ban, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.
Among them was Dr. Nancy Pearson of Southold, a member of the board of directors of the North Fork Audubon Society.
“It is estimated that over one million birds and 100,000 marine animals die unnecessarily each year from plastic debris,” Dr. Pearson said, noting that plastic bags “do not biodegrade.”
“They photo-degrade, contaminating our soils and waterways by breaking up into smaller and smaller pieces,” she said. “These microscopic pieces never fully disintegrate and in certain areas out-compete plankton as a non-nutrient food source in our world’s oceans.”
Marine scientist Kevin McAllister, founder and president of the Sag Harbor-based Defend H20, a water quality advocacy group, called the number of plastic bags stuck in tree branches and scattered on local beaches “omnipresent.”
“I’m here to say, ‘Don’t let this legislation languish,’” Mr. McAllister told county legislators. “It’s the right thing.”
In a recent survey conducted by the Shelter Island Town’s Green Option’s Advisory Committee, respondents supported a county-wide ban of the bags by a four to one majority.
Since 2014, Southold Town residents have signed petitions and spoken at Town Board meetings to express support for a town-wide ban on plastic bags. Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said a countywide ban on single-use plastic bags would be ideal. Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter has echoed that position.
Southampton and East Hampton Towns, as well as several villages within those towns, have enacted bans of the bags.
Legislator Bridget Flemings (D-Noyac), who represents the Island and the South Fork, said in an interview with the Reporter last week, that “the region-wide effort on the South Fork has removed more than 2 million bags per year from the environment.
I’m grateful that more and more of the community is on board with the effort, and doing a great job bringing reusable bags when they shop.”