Divided Boards Adopt Plastic Bag Bans in Southampton, East Hampton

No more plastic bags in East Hampton and Southampton towns.
No more plastic bags in East Hampton and Southampton towns.

The boards of both East Hampton Town and Southampton Town voted Thursday in favor of a ban on plastic shopping bags, though neither board was unanimous.

East Hampton, the measure passed 4 to 1, and in Southampton the board was divided 3 to 2.

The villages of Southampton and East Hampton have each had bans in place for a couple years, but the towns that share names with the small municipalities were not able to come up with the votes until now. The two new bans will come into effect on April 22, 2015, to coincide with Earth Day. Several East End mayors and supervisors have pledged to ban plastic bags by then, though these two towns were the first to move.

The law prohibits retail establishments from using certain plastic bags for at checkout. The ban does not apply to bags that are 28 by 36 inches or larger, or bags made out of durable plastic, at least 2.25 mils thick. Paper bags, which will still be permitted, must be 100% recyclable and display the words “reusable” and “recyclable.”

Penalties for violating the ban are a fine not to exceed $1,000 or up to 15 days in jail.

Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, an Independence Party member, has been pushing for a ban for years, and now that dream has come to fruition.

Councilman Brad Bender, also of the Independence Party, and Councilwoman Bridget Fleming, a Democrat, joined Throne-Holst in voting in favor of the ban. Councilman Stan Glinka and Councilwoman Christine Scalera, both Republicans, dissented.

Scalera has led the “A Greener Southampton — The Solution Is in the Bag” campaign, which aims to encourage residents to bring their own reusable bags to the store, and to recycle the plastic bags they do use. She favors education over a ban.

“We’ve been working on this for three years and I want to thank everyone who’s been a part of the education task force,” Scalera before going on to read from a prepared statement during Thursday’s board meeting.

“While from a political, philosophical standpoint I believe the ban to be overreaching government—nothing more than a political agenda item, as I’ve said before—my comments are going to be fact specific as it relates to the residents and the visitors to the Town of Southampton.”

Scalera said the facts should dissuade the board from a prohibition. She took exception that the legislation was “given a single hearing two days before Thanksgiving.” She says education has increased recycling 43%, not, as others have said, 10%. Also, 67% fewer bags have been found during litter cleanup.

“Education without prohibition does work,” she said. “It just has to be done right, as we have done here…”

Scalera was also concerned that having a ban on the South Fork, while areas to the north and west don’t have the same ban, will disadvantage Southampton businesses.

“I’m not hear to dictate to the businesses,” Glinka said. “I’m hear to help the businesses.”

Bender, in speaking in favor of the ban, reiterated a statement he has made before: “I’ve never seen a paper bag stuck in a tree.” But he has seen plastic bags in trees and on the streets, he said, adding that he looks forward to keeping the bags out of the environment, where they are unsightly litter and dangerous to wildlife.

Throne-Holst said she hopes other towns that have taken a “wait-and-see” approach will now get on board.

In East Hampton, Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and council members Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, Peter Van Scoyoc and Sylvia Overby voted in favor, while Councilman Fred Overton opposed.

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