The Putnam Examiner

County Lawmakers Discuss Ways to Reduce Plastic Bag Usage

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Legislators Ginny Nacerino and Bill Gouldman listen during a Health Committee meeting last week.

After bringing it up last year, Putnam County legislators explored ways to cut down on plastic bag usage when residents hit supermarkets and other businesses around the county during a recent Health Committee meeting last week.

Legislators at the April 12 meeting didn’t indicate they would pursue a ban on plastic bags, which health advocates have asserted are bad for the environment. Instead, whether it be a tax or simply more awareness, legislators discussed possible action with Department of Health officials going forward.

Environmental director for the Health Department Robert Morris said there isn’t any real use for plastic bags, noting how they negatively affect the environment in several ways. In other localities and even in entire states and countries, plastic bags are banned outright or taxed heavily to deter customers from using them at places like supermarkets. Paper bags or reusable bags are two other options stores have been encouraging.

“Taxing them is probably the easiest way to go because if people have to pay for a plastic bag they may think twice about it and bring their own bag,” Morris said.

Both legislators Barbara Scuccimarra and Dini LoBue said if they could, they’d like to ban plastic bags outright, but neither saw it as a plausible because it would lack enough votes on the legislature. LoBue, one lawmaker who is usually for small government, brought the issue up last year in the health committee.

Like plastic or glass bottles that have a deposit fee, LoBue thought placing a fee on each plastic bag would be a worthwhile pursuit. Volunteerism doesn’t necessarily work, Lobue said, and residents’ behavior doesn’t change unless they’re forced to with an economic impact.

Most of the trash on the side of roads is made up of plastic bags, LoBue added.

“I don’t think goodwill, there’s a little bit of it, but I think people need to be forced to change their habits, she said. “And the only way to do that is a monetary impact and also passing a law.”

Morris said when a five-cent fee was imposed on bottles, there were throngs of naysayers that didn’t think it would work and be burdensome, but now it’s something customers don’t even think about.

In Ireland, government officials put a tax on plastic bags and usage dropped 90 percent in five months, health department recycling coordinator Victoria DiLonardo said. The tax was 15 cents and is now up to 33 cents per bag.

Scuccimarra said she thought education and awareness would be critical.

“I want to work with the shop owners and the stores to make this more user friendly,” Scuccimarra said.

Legislator Bill Gouldman also said he believed education was the appropriate direction to go in. He recalls a push 20 years ago to use more plastic bags than paper bags because too many trees were being cut down for paper products.

Living in a small county, consumers could bolt to neighboring New York counties or Connecticut for grocery needs if a fee is imposed on plastic bags, Gouldman said.

“That’s going to do nothing but hurt our local businesses,” Gouldman agued.

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