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Lynbrook, East Rockaway businesses and residents prepare for plastic bag ban

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Like many local business owners, Kaitlyn Gateson said she has spent many hours researching alternatives in preparation for a new statewide plastic bag ban that will take effect March 1, and she has come up with a plan.

“We are offering three different types of reusable bags, along with composite shopping bags,” said Gateson, who owns Lynbrook Bagels, on Atlantic Avenue. “I think that we’ve been given plenty of time to adjust before the ban was to be put in place, and although it’s a small step, it’s a step in the right direction.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Plastic Bag Waste Reduction Act into law last April to help protect the environment. State officials estimated that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually, and nationwide studies show that about 50 percent of single-use plastic bags end up as litter.

“You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage,” Cuomo said at the bill signing. “Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year, and by 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in our oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”

Under the law, businesses cannot distribute single-use bags unless they are used to carry food, bulk items like fruits and vegetables, newspapers, garments, prescription drugs or trash. The measure also includes a provision permitting cities and counties to adopt a minimum 5-cent fee for paper bags, but Nassau County opted out of that requirement. Local retailers now must decide whether they will charge a fee for paper bags and declare the extra money as income. The law also encourages customers to bring their own reusable and machine-washable bags, but if they use their own plastic bags to shop, retailers are required to recycle them.

It could cost businesses up to 17 cents per bag to distribute paper bags to customers. Gateson said that because her business has been preparing for implementation of the new law, she did not foresee having to charge patrons extra. She plans to use reusable bags.

Harry Levitt, who owns Mur-Lee’s Men’s and Boy’s Shop, also on Atlantic Avenue in Lynbrook, said the shop switched to paper bags a few years ago, but noted that his supplier told him that the cost would increase because of an uptick in demand for paper after the new law went into effect. Levitt added that reusable bags are too costly.

“This will just add another expense on small businesses in an unfriendly state like New York,” he said. “More rules and regulations that just keep making it too expensive to run a business in New York.”

Calls to several other businesses in Lynbrook and East Rockaway were not returned at press time. Lynbrook Chamber of Commerce President Stephen Wangel said he supported eliminating plastic bags, and noted that the measure gives businesses an opportunity to advertise by putting their shops’ logos on reusable bags. He added that the state needed to look toward biodegradable choices.

“What perplexes me is that there is little or no talk about biodegradable alternatives,” Wangel said. “Bio-plastics have been around since the mid-1920s. The use of any bio-plastic reduces the use of fossil fuels and can even reduce our carbon footprint.”

Wangel said that more research is needed, and that the law would reduce the use of short-term, but not long-term plastics — many reusable bags are made of plastic — so the law will not eliminate plastics.   

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky advocated for the plastic bag ban, and was one of its signatories. “Today, New York takes bold action to protect our environment by banning plastic bags in New York state,” he said when the bill passed. “Together, we are making a decision to stop bags from clogging up our precious waterways, harming wildlife and littering our communities. With the signing of this legislation, we are making a huge stride in environmental stewardship, but there is much more work yet to be accomplished to save our planet — and I know we are up to the challenge.”

The ban has been met with mixed reviews from residents. Judy O’Grady Vesce said plastic bags harm the environment and should be eliminated, while Alice Cafiero called the new law a “scam and an inconvenience,” noting that water bottles, phones, shampoo and other household items are made of plastic. Barbara Rivosecchi-Colangelo said that reusable bags are unsanitary, while Linda Elizabeth said that paying for paper bags would be worth it if it saves the environment.

Tessa Julieta was among those who voiced their support for the new law. “The less plastic, the better,” she said. “We need to take one step at a time with decreasing our plastic, and this is a step in the right direction.”

“It’s completely ridiculous,” Ray Navarra said. “So no plastic bags are going to save the planet? Facts are, unless you commit to wholesale changes, then half-hearted attempts mean little.”