The Examiner

New Castle Officials Poised to Approve Plastic Bag Ban

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The days of shoppers carrying out their merchandise in single-use plastic bags appear to be coming to an end in New Castle.

The town board is expected to approve the Reusable Bag Initiative tonight (Tuesday), a new law that would prohibit plastic bags from being used and distributed in stores throughout town.

Steven Wolk, chairman of the town’s Sustainability Advisory Board (SAB) which studied the issue for two years before making the recommendation, said while the measure will encourage reusable bags to protect the environment, it would also be good for business. He said that food stores, pharmacies and other establishments that currently use hundreds if not thousands of bags a week, would save money by not having to buy the bags in bulk.

Quoting a state senator from California, a state that has seen about 120 municipalities approve variations of a similar law, Wolk said “a throwaway society is not sustainable.”

Plastic bags are a major source of pollution, clogging drains, getting stuck in watercourses and harming fish and other aquatic life, the law’s proponents have argued. Manufacturing and transporting the bags add to the carbon footprint.

“The Reusable Bag Initiative will benefit both residents and businesses for generations to come,” Wolk said during last week’s public hearing on the measure.

If New Castle passes the legislation it would become the ninth municipality in New York State to enact a law regulating the use of plastic bags, joining Rye, Mamaroneck, Hastings-on-Hudson and Larchmont in Westchester. The law would go into effect on Jan. 1, following a seven-month public education campaign and transition period for businesses, Wolk said.

Under its provisions, stores would be able to use paper bags for customers to carry out merchandise but would charge patrons 10 cents for each bag used. Paper is also discouraged because it is detrimental to the environment as well, Wolk said.

There would be exemptions for plastic bags used for meat and produce, dry cleaners and newspapers. Bags for prescription drugs and greeting cards and decorative paper bags for gifts could remain in use with no charge.

At last week’s hearing, a healthy turnout of town residents, including many local students, spoke in favor of the initiative. Horace Greeley High School senior Abby Furst, an SAB intern, said more than 400 plastic bags an hour are used in New Castle alone, according to a study done by the school’s students a few years ago.

She said a bag is used for an average of 15 minutes but remains in landfills for centuries.

“I think you guys should think about my generation and people living in a world that might not have any resources if we continue using stuff that doesn’t have a long lifespan,” Furst said.

Another Greeley student, Jordan Schmolka, said in sixth grade she was fascinated after reading how San Francisco had passed a law banning plastic bags. Now she is “proud to call myself a New Castle resident and live in a town that joined San Francisco in pioneering really meaningful change in environmental responsibility by making the right, responsible choice.”

However, there were several residents who spoke urging the town board to refrain from making the initiative mandatory.

One merchant, Chappaqua Village Market owner Vinny Milazzo, said while he wasn’t against the law or what it was attempting to accomplish, it would create another obstacle.

Milazzo said he has about 300 customers a day, and at least 50 of those customers call to place orders for pickup. When that occurs, he uses a strong plastic bag that is reusable but would be outlawed under the new ordinance.

“I’m not complaining about it in a sense that I’m not going to try and comply, but I can only comply if it’s reasonable and not at the expense of aggravating 300 customers a day,” said Milazzo, a member of the Business Transition Subcommittee.

Wolk responded that one market in Arcata, Calif. where a similar law was passed overcame many of the challenges that Milazzo outlined by branding their own reusable bags.

Chappaqua resident John Ehrlich said the proposed law is an example of local government going too far, restricting the rights of consumers and retailers. The convenience that both customers and merchants are afforded would hurt business, he warned.

He also said that many residents use the plastic bags for various household purposes.

“You have a right to store bags,” Ehrlich said. “Don’t let them take it away. It’s not an initiative, it’s really a costly inconvenience.”

Another resident, Judy McGrath, said the initiative is government overreach, dictating choices for residents. She recommended making the practice voluntary accompanied with public education.

“I’m an adult, I know how to take care of my garbage,” McGrath said. “I think it’s something that maybe there should be a trial where people are asked to do this. But to pass a law and to charge 10 cents to treat people like they don’t know how to do the right thing, I find insulting.”

But SAB member Maxine Margo Rubin urged the town to immediately step up and pass the measure.

“I heard somebody say, ‘When does it stop?’” she said. “When does it start, and it has to start here at a local level.”

Supervisor Robert Greenstein wanted to vote on the law last week.

“I want to give these people a victory that they came here tonight for,” he said.

While the other council members all said they supported the initiative, they wanted to give anyone who may not have had the chance to speak an opportunity to contact officials with written comments until Tuesday afternoon.

A special meeting will be convened tonight to vote on the law at 6:30 p.m. just prior to a presentation on the downtown Chappaqua streetscape.


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