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Bag ban back on front burner: Town committee airs poll on the issue

COURTESY PHOTO A new poll sheds light on Shelter Islanders thoughts on single-use, plastic bags.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO A new poll sheds light on Shelter Islanders thoughts on single-use, plastic bags.

Eight out of 10 Shelter Islanders believe the town should ban single-use plastic bags.

That’s the result of an online survey conducted from February through April by the town’s Green Options Advisory Committee (GOAC) using SurveyMonkey, an online tool.

In May, the GOAC released part of the survey that revealed 80 percent of Islanders responding to the poll were in favor of a Suffolk County ban on single-use plastic bags used in most retail stores.

But the new information, presented June 28 at a Town Board work session, seems to indicate that most Islanders would like to follow the lead of East Hampton and Southampton towns, which initiated its own bans.

Suffolk County legislators introduced a bill March 1 that would prohibit the free bags given away at retail stores across the county. Legislator William Spencer (D-Centerport) sponsored the bill.

In an interview in April with Times Review, Dr. Spencer, a physician, said it’s the right time to confront an ongoing issue.

“We know plastic has put a major burden on the earth,” Dr. Spencer said. “For the most part we use it for a very short period of time, but that plastic bag is around for thousands of years after that.”

But the county initiative has stalled. At the June 28 work session, Councilman Jim Colligan noted that the target date for a countywide implementation, if it passed and was signed by the county executive, was originally January 2017.  “But that’s been delayed to January 2018, if it passes,” Mr. Colligan said.

“It changes every week,” Supervisor Jim Dougherty said.

The survey Mr. Purtell presented to board’s work session received 250 responses. It asked eight questions, including if respondents recycled plastic bags; close to 70 percent said they did.

One question that divided Islanders almost equally was: “If Shelter Island banned bags and stores switched to paper, do you think they should charge for paper to encourage reusable bag use?”

Those in favor of charging for paper bags came in at 53 percent, while 47 percent answered no.

Many Islanders already have a mindset to reduce plastic bag usage, with close to 45 percent responding that they “often” take a reusable bag when shopping; 36 percent “sometimes” go with a bag; and 19 percent responded that they “never” took a reusable bag.

To those who responded “never” or “sometimes,” the poll asked what incentive would encourage them to bring a bag along when shopping. The respondents were split, with 52 percent saying a fee for a bag would get their attention; 48 percent said more signage outside and inside stores would help; and 23 percent said a sign on their car’s visor would help.

There were 91 comments by respondents logged by the poll, with 18 comments in opposition to a bag ban.

One respondent wrote: “Septic tanks, insecticides and lawn fertilizers are much more serious problems to Shelter Island and should be tackled first.” Another Islander wrote: “This is not practical if store owners want people to shop. Bags are part of the cost of doing business.”

But 37 Islanders, or double those against a ban, were in favor of the town taking action. One respondent wrote: “This is a critical issue with long term  … influence on the quality of life for future generations. Let us work together to find an equitable solution.”