HUDSON — Columbia County supervisors are discussing a ban on the use of single-use plastic retail bags as they wait to see what the state does with legislation that has sat in the Assembly and Senate for months.
Supervisors on the County Government Committee started talking about the possibility of a local law banning the use of single-use plastic bags, such as those customers get at grocery stores.
Ulster County Executive Michael Hein signed a ban into law Oct. 18.
The conversation was initiated by Hudson 4th Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann, a member of the committee, who said this is a timely issue as Columbia County tries to figure out what to do with the closed Hudson landfill.
“This is the beginning of a discussion and a small step to help with the environment,” Mussmann said. “This could help eliminate more garbage. These plastic bags are pretty much everywhere. I see them in trees and in the river.”
Mussmann cited the Ulster County law, which states no store engaged in the retail sale of personal, consumer or household items including, but not limited to, drug stores, pharmacies, grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, foodmarts, apparel stores, home center and hardware stores, stationary and office supply stores, and food service establishments, shall provide a single-use plastic carryout bag to any customer, at the check-out stand, cash register, point of sale or other point of departure for the purpose of transporting food or merchandise out of the establishment.
Ulster County’s law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2019, also stipulates that stores can provide free reusable bags for a month after the effective date and each year thereafter from Dec. 1 to Dec. 21. Any other time of the year the stores must charge customers a minimum of 5 cents per bag.
The legislation cites data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that show between 500 billion and 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year and that plastic bags account for over 10 percent of debris that washes up on U.S. coastlines.
The New York Association of Convenience Stores, headquartered in Albany, opposed Ulster County’s local law.
“We opposed Ulster County’s recently adopted plastic bag ban because we felt it was the wrong approach, and because it unfairly exempted restaurants and certain other favored businesses,” said Association President Jim Calvin, a resident of Valatie. “We’re in the business of convenience. It’s convenient for our customers who buy large items, or several items, to place them in a strong bag to carry to the car or carry home. As a convenience, we provide plastic bags to customers who need them.”
Calvin argued Wednesday that convenience stores face a unique challenge from plastic bag bans because customers generally don’t plan to go to convenience stores like they do for grocery stores.
“I am sure this would be a burden for stores,” Mussmann said Tuesday. “I think these plastic bags are more of a burden to us and the environment.”
Calvin and the Association support a system that imposes a fee for the use of plastic bags.
“A fee system is an alternative to a ban,” Calvin said. “It would be burdensome to both retailers and customers, but if thoughtfully crafted and enacted at the state level, could be more palatable than a ban because it provides an economic incentive to bring your own bag.”
Columbia County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matthew Murell suggested at Tuesday’s meeting that the county take a step back and wait to see what the state does in this year’s legislative session that starts in January.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed ban, announced in April, did not came to fruition and several bills were introduced earlier this year in the state Assembly and Senate that did not budge before the session ended in June.
Supervisors agreed that something has to be done to move away from the use of single-use plastic bags, but disagreed how that is best achieved.
“I think this should start with the stores,” said Stuyvesant Town Supervisor Ronald Knott, a member of the committee. “They can charge a fee for plastic bags and push people to use reusable bags.”