The average person uses 500 plastic bags a year, but members of Pleasantville Recycles are hoping to reduce that number at the local level by proposing a ban on single-use bags.
Three members of the group that is committed to educating Pleasantville on recycling, made a presentation to the village board Monday night requesting that a law be created to forbid the use of single-use plastic bags in local shops.
“This initiative is to help a global problem by focusing on what our village can do,” said Pleasantville Recycles Committee member Lynda Shenkman Curtis.
Curtis, who made the presentation with Andrea Garbarini and Edwin Kuo, said more than 435 million bags are used in Westchester and neighboring counties each year. On average, only 4 to 8 percent of those bags are properly recycled.
They noted similar towns, including Rye, have already banned single-use plastic bags. Consensus among Rye merchants is that while the ban may be a bit more costly, it is worth the reward of helping the environment. Hastings-on-Hudson is the most recent town to enact such an ordinance, banning not only plastic but paper bags as well. Locally, New Castle is also considering a plastic bag ban for most businesses.
Village trustees were divided on whether a law would need to be put on the books in order to get residents to adopt more environmentally friendly habits. Mindy Berard said she is leery of creating a law because enforcement would be difficult. The elimination or reduction of plastic bags could be achieved through educational efforts, she said.
“You could not find anybody who doesn’t agree with the end result,” Berard said. “There is no question that everybody would like to reduce their consumption of plastic bags. If we can get to that point without putting a costly law that we can’t enforce on the books, I think we’re ahead of everybody else.”
Although enforcement could be an issue, Trustee Jonathan Cunningham said that’s not a reason to dismiss the request. Most stores, however, will not order and use hundreds of plastic bags in violation of an ordinance if it’s on the books.
Berard said eliminating plastic bags in the village requires a change of mindset among residents, which she said is something that the government cannot force.
Other trustees noted, that sometimes legislation is required to change habits, citing laws that require the use of seatbelts and the prohibition of texting while driving.
“Sometimes education is not enough to change the habits that are considered a part of everyday life but are actually of no value,” Curtis said.
Trustee Coleen Griffin-Wagner said the only way she would give up the convenience of plastic bags is if she was forced to.
Pleasantville Recycles members agreed that most residents would not voluntarily make the change. At the recent Pleasantville Music Festival, the committee monitored trash receptacles to make sure people threw garbage and recyclables into the correct bins.
Board members expressed concern that a ban on plastic bags might affect Key Food and drive residents to shop at supermarkets in neighboring municipalities. They requested that Pleasantville Recycles members speak with staff at Mount Pleasant supermarkets to see if they would be open to a similar ban.
Pleasantville Recycles has spent the last year educating residents and shop owners on the issue. Many are receptive, the members said, but are concerned about the financial impact. However, businesses could sell reusable canvas bags with company logos on them to make money and could also charge a fee to customers who request a paper bag.
The proposed ban would not include heavier plastic bags that are typically given out in places such as pet stores because technically they can be reused.
Pleasantville Recycles members don’t believe that the ban would have a significant negative impact. They noted that wholesale stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club are wildly successful despite having customers use boxes instead of plastic bags. Furthermore, customers can fit more into a box or reusable tote anyway.
“You use it for 12 minutes and it lasts in the world for a thousand years,” Garbarini said of the single-use plastic bags.
The board agreed to schedule a public hearing on the proposal in the fall.
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