Editorial

Nassau should move ahead with plastic bag tax

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Plastic bags are about the most insidious of all plastics that humans have created over the past century or so. They easily escape from garbage trucks, and people carelessly toss them to the sides of roads along with other trash. They then float and fly about like helium balloons, easily carried by the slightest wind.

Tree branches and chain-link fences tear them to shreds — into what scientists call micro-particles. A single plastic bag can be broken down into 1.75 million — yes, million — micro-particles, according to the a recent National Geographic article titled “Planet or Plastic?”

Micro-particles are gobbled up in a variety of ways by animals and marine creatures. Whales suck in billions of them in the oceans, which, in many ways, have become giant garbage dumps. That’s because so much of our trash eventually flows into them.

All of this is why we are disappointed that the Nassau County Legislature’s presiding officer, Richard Nicolello, a Republican from New Hyde Park, is stubbornly refusing to allow discussion of a bill that would impose a countywide 5-cent tax on plastic bags, which has been shown in other counties, including Suffolk, to reduce plastic-bag use drastically.

Nicolello contends that the tax would place an undue burden on already overtaxed residents. The thing is, they wouldn’t have to pay the tax. They could simply buy low-cost, reusable bags. Many, if not most, grocery stores now offer a discount for every reusable bag that a shopper checks out with. Problem solved.

Kroger and Safeway, two American supermarket giants, were the first to phase out paper bags in favor of plastic ones, in 1982. Today Americans throw away an estimated 100 billion plastic bags every year, consuming tens of millions of barrels of oil, according to the Worldwatch Institute, a nonprofit organization committed to sustainable development. It’s little wonder that ExxonMobil introduced the plastic bag to the U.S. in the late 1960s and ’70s, according to a 2011 Rolling Stone article, “The Plastic Bag Wars.”

A plastic bag tax has the support of County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat from Baldwin. Nicolello, frankly, sounds out of touch with Nassau’s growing environmental movement. It’s about time that he got on board. He should allow a vote on the measure.