The use of single-use plastic bags would be restricted under a new plan proposed by two Westchester County legislators.
Legislators Kitley Covill and Nancy Barr announced legislation aimed at encouraging the use of reusable bags.
“This is the first step toward a goal we all share, to improve the environment by eliminating the plastic bags that pollute our waterways, clog our sewers, back up our storm drains, endanger our marine life and litter our streets,” said Covill, a Katonah Democrat.
The goal of the Reusable Bag Initiative, legislators said, is to eliminate single-use plastic bags at retail checkouts. Stores and other sellers would only be allowed to provide reusable bags or bags made of recycled paper. The initiative also proposes a fee of at least 10 cents for every bag provided by a seller.
“This legislation reflects an increasing awareness of how destructive, permanent and unnecessary single-use plastic bags actually are,” said Nancy Barr, a Democrat from Rye Brook.
Certain kinds of bags, such as dry cleaner garment covers, produce bags and those used for prescriptions, are exempt from the initiative. Legislators said shoppers using the New York State Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and the New York State Spe-cial Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would be exempt from the fee.
“While several municipalities around Westchester already have reusable bag legislation and several others are considering similar laws, it’s time for the county as a whole to join other counties like Suffolk in leading the state and the nation towards a cleaner, more sustainable future for ourselves and for our children,” Barr said.
Municipalities, including Larchmont, have similar bans in place. In Connecticut, plastic bags have been banned from retail stores in Westport for nearly a decade and Greenwich passed a ban on plastic bags earlier this year.
The legislation also takes aim at polystyrene foam packing materials, banning their use in food containers and other uses in the county. The measure notes that these materials “live forever” and are a “significant source of pollution as they are difficult to recycle.”
“The introduction of this measure is the first step in the legislative process,” Covill said. “The various committees at the Board of Legislators will be listening to everyone — store owners, consumers, environmental scientists and others — as we work together to shape a law that is not an undue burden on anyone, but one that will make the Westchester we leave for our children better, cleaner and more sustainable.”
Still, some believe the bill’s inclusion of a bag fee would be a burden on the working poor.
“The working poor are already fighting to make ends meet,” said Westchester County Legislator Lyndon Williams, a Mount Vernon Democrat. “The county should not burden them further with a bag fee.”
Williams said the fee would not deter residents who are financially well off, noting that they would instead pay for the convenience of a bag that would eventually end up as waste. He also questioned the sufficiency of exemptions for WIC and SNAP recipients, noting that many working poor are not part of those programs.
“I want to support my colleagues’ effort on the environment, but just not at the expense of those who can least afford to bear the burden of this fee,” Williams said.
He added he was also concerned that the bag fee would be a windfall to the business owner. Instead, he proposed the fee be funneled to remediate negative environmental conditions in poor communities.
Just days after legislators announced their plan, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced a similar bill that would ban all single-use, plastic carryout bags across the state. The bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
In March 2017, Cuomo launched the New York State Plastic Bags Task Force, a group he created to study the impact of single-use plastic bags and develop a solution. The group, led by State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos, released their findings in January.
“The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment,” Cuomo said.