Members of North Fork Audubon rallied the troops at Southold’s Sept. 8 town board meeting in support of a long-languishing proposal to ban one-use plastic bags in Southold, but they were met with little support from Town Supervisor Scott Russell.
“I personally won’t make a commitment to draft a law, but you’ve got six members here,” said Mr. Russell after several community members asked the board to revisit the possibility of a bag ban.
Mr. Russell did say that he will meet with Riverhead Town Board members and Suffolk County legislators to see if they will take the lead in a bag ban.
Mr. Russell said he has heard from many Southold business owners who are already concerned about losing business to box stores in Riverhead and who believe the cost of switching to paper bags is too much for their businesses to absorb.
“I’m not willing to consider it in Southold right now, but I will go back and talk to the businesses again,” he said.
Last summer, supporters of a bag ban packed Southold Town Hall to ask the town to take the lead in banning plastic bags, which can choke birds and marine animals, to no avail.
Meanwhile, Southampton and East Hampton Towns both passed bag bans last December. Southampton’s ban went into effect on April 22, and East Hampton’s ban is expected to go into effect Sept. 22.
North Fork Audubon has since gathered more than 1,000 signatures on a petition calling on the Southold Town Board to enact a ban, and they’ve collected nearly 400 signatures to date on a change.org petition.
Architect Anne Surchin, who is on the board of directors of North Fork Audubon presented the petitions to the town board, and pointed out that bag bans in other towns didn’t apply to butcher shops, fish shops or farm stands.
“The amount of plastic wasted in this world is really frightening,” she said. “I think this would be a very progressive thing for this town to do. I don’t see a down side.”
Laura Klahre, who owns Blossom Meadow Honey and is a partner in Coffee Pot Cellars Winery with her husband, Adam Suprenant, said she uses reusable wine totes and paper bags at the winery.
“We’re fully in support of the plastic bag ban. There’s definitely no down side,” she said.
David Markel asked Mr. Russell why the supervisor had told him just weeks ago that he believed the South Fork towns had not passed bag bans when they, in fact, passed the bans last December.
“Are you saying you don’t keep up with the events of other towns?” he asked.
Last year, Mr. Russell had said he wasn’t in favor of Southold taking the lead if other town’s hadn’t yet passed a ban.
“We want you to stand up for the environment,” said Mr. Markel. “We want you, the town board, to ban single use plastic carry-out bags. To me this is a watershed issue. It says where you stand on the environment. It’s not a political issue. It’s an issue of doing what’s right.”
North Fork Environmental Council President Bill Toedter said that the biodegradation of plastic bags in the marine environment leads to petroleum products being absorbed by filter feeding fish and shellfish in the East End’s bays.
“This is a major issue. The amount of petroleum-based residue found in humans from degradation of petroleum-based products like plastic bags is scary,” he said.
Mr. Toedter added that plastic bags have also fouled up the machinery in the town’s new single-stream recycling machines.
“Municipalities have spent thousands repairing machinery because of the plastic bag issue,” he said.
Mr. Toedter added that he believes people will begin to bring their own reusable bags to supermarkets not long after a ban is passed, leaving business owners with just a “short-term blip” in which they’ll have to spend more on paper bags.
He urged the town to take the lead before the county or Riverhead.
“Thee pressure is there. The momentum is there. Southold shouldn’t be lagging behind,” he said.
Diana Van Buren of North Fork Audubon also asked the board to take the lead.
“We have the most shoreline in New York State and we are not leaders on this? I don’t understand it,” she said. “When people come to our beaches and see plastic bags, what kind of message does it send them? Not a good one.”
Annemarie Van Hemmen of New Suffolk said she saw at least three plastic bags when kayaking in the waters around Robins Island Sunday afternoon, but she couldn’t chase after them to fish them out of the water due to all the motorized boat traffic around her.
“I’ve lived in many places in the world where plastic bags are lifesavers,” she said. “In the Amazon, they want your ZipLock bags. There is a place for plastic bags in the world, but not one-time, non-reusable ones.”
“What’s good for the environment is good for us,” said Heather Cusack of Southold. “I hope you do it. I think that the young people of Southold would learn quite a bit from it.”