Be prepared to pay 5 cents for grocery bags in the new year.
Be prepared to pay 5 cents for grocery bags in the new year.

If you’ve been collecting reusable cloth grocery bags throughout the past few years, stuff them into your car. You’re going to need them in the new year.

As of Jan. 1, 2018, Suffolk County requires retailers to charge customers at least 5 cents for every bag they take from the store, regardless of whether those bags are paper or plastic.

Southampton and East Hampton towns banned the use of plastic carry-out grocery bags several years ago, but retailers in those towns will still be required to charge fees for paper bags.

Customers will not be charged if they bring their own bags.

After briefly toying with the prospect of banning plastic bags altogether, the Suffolk County Legislature adopted the bag fee in 2016, but it was not slated to go into effect until the beginning of 2018.

In adopting the law, the legislature pointed out that only 5 to 7 percent of plastic bags are recycled, and it costs more to make bags from recycled materials than new materials. Plastic bags account for 10 percent of debris that washes up along U.S. coastlines.

In addition, according to the legislature, 14 million trees are cut down every year to manufacture paper bags.

After much legislative wrangling between the city and Albany, New York City is also slated to impose a fee on carry-out bags in the new year.

Suffolk County’s law applies not just to supermarkets and convenience stores, but also to apparel, home center and hardware stores, and stationary and office supply stores.

The county health department is slated to file a report every year on the effectiveness of the program in reducing the use of single-use bags.

“If this approach fails to reduce the use of plastic bags by at least 75 percent in three years, the idea of an outright ban can be revisited at a later date,” according to the legislation.

The stores will keep the 5 cent fee, but will also be required to use paper bags made from at least 40 percent post-consumer recycled content, and plastic bags labeled as “compostable” must be designed to be aerobically composted in municipal or industrial facilities.

The following types of bags are not subject to this law: bags without handles used to carry

produce, meats, poultry, fish, dairy, dry goods or other non-prepackaged food items to the point of sale within a covered store or to prevent such food items from coming into direct contact with

other purchased items; bags provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs; and garment bags.

Stores were allowed to provide their customers with free reusable carryout bags throughout the month of December, 2017, and will be allowed to do so again Dec. 1 through Dec. 15 of ensuing years.

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

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