Suffolk County Plastic Bag Fee Sparks Mixed Emotions

By: Joe Pantaleo & Christopher Rosvoglou

After years of negotiating, Suffolk County has finally embraced the trend of shopping with reusable bags.

With plastic bags now costing five cents each in 2018, shoppers will have to adjust their approach at grocery, convenient, liquor, clothing, and home good stores.

Suffolk County Legislator William R. Spencer, who was the main driving force behind this change said in a statement that the main reason for this was to “reduce the bag waste that is generated by the 10 billion single-use carryout bags consumed annually in New York.”

In addition to Legislator Spencer’s comments, Legislator Tom Cilmi provided his reasoning for this environmental law, via email, saying “The intent of the bill’s sponsor was to reduce the use of so-called single-use bags, predominantly plastic bags, which find their way into our trees and bushes, into our parks, beaches and waters, and reportedly have a devastating impact on marine life.”

Despite fees being placed on each plastic bag, the objective isn’t aimed to hurt consumers’ pockets, but to encourage shoppers to use reuseable bags. Brian Heyman, a Suffolk County resident, took note.

“Our goal has always been to change public behavior and provide an incentive for shoppers to bring their own bag,” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said. “We don’t want anyone to pay a nickel, we want people to please remember to take those reusable bags out of the trunk and bring them into the store.”

Early Fee Feedback

According to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, a survey conducted before the law was put into motion, showed that over 70 percent of shoppers used single-use bags.

Even though the fee was implemented just over a month ago, several supermarket chains are seeing as much as an 80 percent reduction in plastic bag consumption.

“People are using a lot less bags than before, that’s the difference,” said Bay Shore Stop and Shop Manager Jonathan Schindel.  “People are bringing in their own bags and boxes for groceries.”

While there are many people in favor of the new environmental law, the idea of being charged per bag has enraged several Suffolk County shoppers.

“[The plastic bag fee] only affects the lower class, who might not be able to buy many groceries because of the five cents adding up.”  

“I feel that the tax is intrusive and doesn’t stop people from using them, or pollution,” Dylan Sandas, a resident of Suffolk County said. “It only affects the lower class, who might not be able to buy many groceries because of the five cents adding up.”

According to the Suffolk County government website, all fees collected as a result of the tax will be retained by the store, which has raised many questions.

“We have received many complaints from angry consumers, and a number of valid questions and concerns have come to light,” Legislator Tom Cilmi said. “For example, why do retailers get to keep the money and wouldn’t it be more appropriate to use the money for environmental purposes?

Legislator Cilmi also alluded to additional laws coming in the future, but made it clear that the current law has resulted in significantly reduced single-use bags.

The History of Plastic Bag Fees

In order to produce the 100 million plastic bags that the U.S. consumes every year, it requires 2.2 billion pounds of fossil fuel and 3.9 billion gallons of fresh water, according to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.  

Plastic bags also make up 10 percent of the debris that washes up on U.S. coastlines.

The number of Americans subject to a plastic bag fee has steadily increased in the past decade. Data: Earth Policy Institute

Although placing a fee on plastic bags is new to Suffolk County, there are numerous states and cities in the United States taking action. 

Not only did California become the first state in America to place a ban on plastic bags, but they even enforce a 10 cent fee on shoppers who don’t use reusable bags.

There are six cities in the U.S. that have plastic bag bans, including Los Angeles and Seattle, as well as six counties that incorporate fees.

“Do we at Stop and Shop want to charge customers? No,” said Schindel.  “It just depends how you look at it, because it also does help the environment.”