With green as the new black, disposable shopping bags may be a thing of the past if a new ban on plastic bags is put into effect in Mamaroneck.
A hearing on the proposal to ban plastic bags at retail checkout counters served as the evening's main attraction and elicited comments from a dozen speakers, the vast majority of whom supported the ordinance.
The board has met with representatives of the Mamaroneck A&P and the Food Industry Alliance, a trade group representing the grocery business, said Mayor Norman Rosenblum, to discuss the ban. He also reported receiving 30 emails—28 in favor of the ban—though concerns were raised about the law’s wording, even from supporters, he said.
One of the stumbling blocks, said several speakers at the meeting, is that people are creatures of habit and have grown too comfortable with the concept of receiving a plastic bag with every purchase. Given this resistance, educational efforts have not been enough to change people’s behavior and a law is in order. All agreed that using paper bags—which would still be allowed—is not a viable solution since they take up more resources to make and transport and are more expensive than plastic bags.
“We must think to the future,” said Sarah Robbins Evans, co-chair of the Village Committee for the Environment, “Even if it means giving up a minor convenience.”
Steve Josephson, owner of the and president of the local , said that his store will eliminate thin plastic bags but will make available a heavy paper type of bag that is reusable. He offers a 10 percent discount for customers who bring the bag back for subsequent purchases of products in the store.
So far, he said, most non-food retailers are happy with the ordinance, especially since thicker plastic bags are still allowed in case someone has a large purchase or needs the plastic for protection against the elements.
Representatives from Rye and Westport, Conn.—both of which have instituted bans—also spoke. Pelham and Darien, Conn. are also considering bag bans. Rye’s ban will take effect on May 7, when all retailers will be prohibited from handing out thin plastic bags. Plastic bags utilized for food items such as cold cuts or dry cleaning bags are exempt from the ban.
Westport instituted its bag ban in 2008, said speaker Jonathan Cunitz, who wrote the bill and lobbies for similar laws in other municipalities. He called the lack of plastic bags a “non-issue,” and said that the ban created a newfound environmental awareness that led to other initiatives. Retailers were part of the solution to changing individual habits by posting signs, offering reusable bags for sale and training cashiers to recommend that customers not take a bag for smaller purchases.
John Ryan, a district manager at A&P, the only supermarket within the village, spoke out against the bill, saying that it puts him at an unfair disadvantage.
Instead of a ban, he proposed a tack of “conservation and education,” cautioning the board to “work with facts, not emotions.” The use of paper will increase as people forget to bring their reusable bags, he said, and the ban discriminates against people who don’t have a car. Plastic bags are easily recyclable and reusable, he said, adding that the bins in his store are filled up every day.
The food industry supports the goal of keeping plastic bags out of the environment, said Pat Brodhagen, vice president of public and consumer affairs at the Food Industry Alliance of New York State. She suggested a private-public collaboration to aggressively promote reduction, reuse and recycling. A similar program in Massachusetts already reached its initial goal a year ahead of schedule, she said, urging the board to find another path to the same result because there’s “no connection between the ban and changing consumer behavior.”
Rosenblum empathized with the potential for economic hardship and questioned the provision in the law that exempts non-profits from the ban. Citing improved cooperation with neighboring communities, Trustee Toni Pergola Ryan considered the ban a step in the right direction. Trustee John Hofstetter, who participated in the Earth Day cleanup held last weekend, reported that he saw far too many plastic bags among the refuse.
Several speakers brought up the movie Bag It, about the proliferation of plastic. Trustee Sid Albert said that watching the movie would erase any doubts in the minds of bag ban detractors. The ban, he said, “is the greatest step we can make in this village.”
Trustee Louis Santoro noted that the vote would likely be unanimous, but suggested that the board should “do it to perfection.” The board will revisit the issue at its next meeting after referring several legal questions and concerns for the village attorney’s consideration.