In response to environmental and quality-of-life issues spurred by ever-present single-use-plastic-bag pollution in Long Beach, the city has drafted legislation similar to laws passed in Suffolk County and New York City that would charge shoppers who choose to use the bags five cents each.
The ordinance — which has yet to be formally introduced, and would require approval by the City Council — comes after Patchogue’s ban on single-use plastic and non-recyclable paper shopping bags went into effect earlier this month. On Sept. 7, the Suffolk County Legislature also approved a measure to impose a five-cent fee for single-use plastic bags, with the hope of seeing a 75 percent reduction in their number within three years.
Members of the BYO Bag campaign, which focuses on eliminating single-use plastic and the pollution it creates, have been pushing for a ban, with members saying that Long Beach residents use 11 million plastic bags per year, and that 9,500 of them were removed from Reynolds Channel last year. The group has encouraged officials to move forward with the legislation at recent City Council meetings.
“We’re looking forward to working with the City Council and making this happen,” said George Povall, president of All Our Energy, at the council’s Sept. 6 meeting. “… I think if everybody’s in favor, we should move forward in a smart way, in a way that covers many bases, if possible, and will make this something that will stick.”
All Our Energy called for a citywide ban on or charge for plastic bags at a rally in Kennedy Plaza in July, and council members and other city officials stood alongside advocates to show their support for the measure. More than 2,500 people have signed a petition in support of banning the bags in the city, including representatives of 82 businesses, and Povall stressed that residents and merchants alike are backing the campaign.
“We are working with the Chamber of Commerce on this issue, so we are moving forward, and we take this very seriously as well,” Councilwoman Eileen Goggin said at Tuesday’s meeting.
City officials told the Herald that plastic and paper bag waste contributes to, and hinders the ability to protect against, climate change and rising sea levels. They added that it is also a quality-of-life issue, because bags not only blow around the city and into trees, but block storm drains and worsen flooding.
Ryan McTiernan, an assistant to City Manager Jack Schnirman, discussed the proposed ordinance at Monday’s Chamber of Commerce meeting. If it is approved, he said, it would be phased in and go into effect next April 22 — Earth Day — to allow adequate time for the city administration to do public outreach and for businesses to prepare.
“It’s still in the draft phase and we’re working on getting feedback,” said McTiernan, adding that grant funding might be available to the city so it could supply free reusable bags. “We want to work out all the kinks so that when this thing goes out, everybody is on board.”
The proposal would require all businesses to charge a fee of at least five cents for each carryout bag — paper or plastic — with certain exemptions. Businesses would keep all the money they would collect. The charge would not be imposed on customers using their own bags, bags without handles — those used for meats, produce, dry-cleaning, newspapers or flowers — or bags provided by doctors and pharmacists for prescription drugs. It also would not apply to sales at liquor stores or customers using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Education on the issue has already begun, and the city spent the last year collaborating with the chamber, as well as local environmental groups and businesses, to organize screenings of “Bag It,” a documentary about the dangers of plastic pollution.
Officials said that signs would be posted at businesses to notify customers, and the city intends to launch numerous community outreach initiatives that include hosting events with reusable bag giveaways, providing multilingual information to residents, and making low- to moderate-income outreach a priority.
In the meantime, the chamber has teamed up with the BYO Bag campaign to create a promotional — and reusable — tote bag in time for Merchants Week next month. The bag, designed by Scout Design Shop in the West End, will list the names of participating businesses and encourage residents and visitors to use the free bags when they shop.
“We want everybody who has a business to be involved in this,” Leah Tozer, co-chair of the chamber’s Sustainability Committee, said on Monday. “We want to be able to give reusable bags to every person that comes into the city. It’s going to be a lot easier for them to go shopping so you don’t get that five-cent charge.”