War Against Plastic: New Legislation to Discourage Plastic Bag Use in Suffolk County


Elizabeth Wang, Sports Editor

Suffolk County Long Island customers are now being charged an additional five cents for the previously free plastic shopping bags from stores. This new legislation was put into effect on January 1, 2018 and has been a controversial topic of debate.

Regulations on plastic bag use have been propagating in Island throughout the past few years. East Hampton and Southampton towns, Sagaponack, Quogue,and Patchogue have already enforced plastic bag bans, with some being implemented as early as 2010. Suffolk County has now joined the growing trend with its new law.

This new war against plastic bags began for environmental reasons. For years, environmentalists have demanded an end to use of these plastic bags, as they often end up as litter in waterways and disturb the equilibrium of natural ecosystems. Significant amounts of money are taken from taxes annually to deal with cleanup and proper disposal. Last year, in New York alone, 9.7 billion plastic bags were hauled into landfills, weighing 91,000 tons and costing 12.5 million dollars. Furthermore, generating the bags in the first place is also costly. The synthetic plastic used is oil-based, requiring an estimated 12 billion barrels of oil each year.

Suffolk County representatives hope the 5 cent additional cost for these bags will discourage people from using them. “This new law will irritate us into changing our behavior and turning more towards reusable bags,” argued New York  Council member Brad Lander.  Business who do not charge for the bags will receive a $250-$500 fine, and the only exceptions include bags for for take-out and delivery food, meats,  produce, and prescription-drug purchases.

So, is this change a good thing? It would certainly seem so, with the wide reaching environmental benefits it promises to yield. However, non-environmental consequences must not be ignored.

Economically, this new legislation might prove harmful to local businesses. Since this legislation was not passed universally throughout Long Island, the bag fee may drive customers elsewhere. Many businesses have protested this law for that reason and wish for a universal law to be passed throughout the entire New York State to “level the playing field.”

There has been significant consumer backlash against this new policy as well. Throughout social media accounts like Twitter and Instagram, angry customers denounced the new law, declaring it “an infringement on our right to convenience.” Some even more radical customers encouraged others to boycott these stores until the policy is repealed.

In addition, it should be understood that not all plastic bags used by customers are necessarily wasted. “In my house, we reuse the plastic bags in our smaller trash cans,” explained Ward Melville junior Kelsey Ge. Although Kelsey supports the five cent plastic bag policy, she is proof that even without it there are ways to give the bags more use before they end up in a landfill.

In response to business and consumer backlash, Suffolk County representatives have explained that the five cent additional cost to the bags does not really “add unfair costs,” as the free bags were not technically free to begin with. Retailers spend approximately 4 billion dollars a year to give out the bags, so the cost was simply passed on to consumers in the form of higher product prices. The “free” plastic bags had a hidden cost to consumers and taxpayers the whole time.

So far, an 85 percent decrease in the use of plastic bags has resulted from global legislation instituting bans and fees. Suffolk County Long Island will hopefully be aiding further decrease in the coming years.