Lynbrook, East Rockaway residents react positively to New York's plastic bag ban

Anthony O'Reilly & Melissa Koenig for LI Herald

Originally published in Long Island Herald

Under an agreement reached as part of the state budget passed by lawmakers over the weekend, plastic bags will be banned in all New York retail stores starting next March.

“You drive through urban areas in this state and you see plastic bags hanging from trees like some bizarre Christmas ornaments,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters on March 31. “You see [them] in waterways all across this state, plastic bags.”

The ban is supported locally by many Lynbrook and East Rockaway residents. Reacting to a Herald post on Facebook about the legislation, many wrote that they were happy to see it pass.

“It’s about time we start to care about the future,” Vicki Perlman wrote.

Julie Sheehan Bergin wrote that she was also pleased to see the legislation approved, and noted that she keeps reusable bags in her car. “You get used to it, and it’s going to help the environment,” she said. “It’s a shame to see the plastic bags all along highways and roads, stuck in trees. Hope the new law helps.”

Kenny Olson said he approved of the measure because “we don’t need plastic bags killing our oceans.”

With the agreement, New York becomes the second state to ban plastic bags — California was the first. State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who heads the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, sponsored the bill to ban the bags. “We will score a big win for our environment and our future,” he said in a social media post shortly before the budget was approved.

Plastic bags are used for 12 minutes on average before they become garbage, according to Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment. At that point, she said, they can blow into waterways, where marine life might suffocate on them or ingest them. Plastic in general, Esposito said, breaks down into micro-particles, which have been found in a variety of oceangoing wildlife.

“It’ll take a generation to fix, but we must start now,” Esposito said, acknowledging that using reusable bags can be a challenging transition for residents. “Sometimes it’s inconvenient to protect the Earth, but it’s worth it.”

Under the plan, counties can opt to levy a 5-cent fee on paper bags, with 3 cents going to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, used to expand New York’s Forest Preserve and restore historic sites. Two cents would go to counties to purchase and hand out reusable shopping bags. A spokeswoman for Nassau County Executive Laura Curran did not respond to a call requesting comment on whether the county would seek a 5-cent fee on paper sacks.

Some municipalities had already sought to decrease the use of plastic bags in stores — Long Beach and the Village of Sea Cliff had implemented a 5-cent surcharge on plastic bags. In Long Beach, the legislation was passed in the hope of reducing plastic-bag use by 75 percent, according to city officials. Suffolk County also has a fee on plastic and paper bags.

Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé, a Democrat from Freeport, had sought the same fee countywide, but the Republican majority blocked a vote on legislation she propsed. After the announcement that bags would be banned statewide, Mulé said she would drop her bill.

“I’m happy there’s a ban on plastic bags — it’s great,” she said. Mulé added, though, that she was disappointed that the fee on paper bags would not be mandatory, a point that many environmentalists agreed with.

Lynbrook resident Susan Brockmann was a vocal supporter of Mulé’s proposed legislation. On May 7, 2018, Brockmann stood outside the county’s Legislative Building in Mineola wearing 500 plastic bags. She did so to demonstrate how the average person uses 500 plastic bags per year, contributing to an annual total in New York state of about 23 billion. The bags, Brockmann said at the time, get stuck in trees or end up in the ocean, where marine creatures can ingest them and die from the chemicals used to make them.

“It’s such a good visual,” Brockmann said of her get-up. She could not be reached for comment after the state ban was approved.

Students in the Lynbrook School District were also proponents of change. They presented the village’s board of trustees with letters urging officials to tax plastic bags in April 2017.

The state budget also made the 2 percent property tax cap permanent, a measure that the State Senate’s Long Island delegation advocated leading up to the spending plan’s passage. The cap limits the yearly growth of taxes levied by local governments and school districts to 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is smaller, in an effort to keep communities affordable for homeowners. The cap was first passed in 2011, and was set to expire in 2020.

The budget also included congestion pricing, which will charge drivers $11.50 to enter Midtown Manhattan’s central business district, south of 60th Street. According to Newsday, the Long Island Rail Road could receive up to $4 billion over five years from money raised by congestion pricing and earmarked for capital improvements.

Long Island’s state senators said they would not have supported congestion pricing if part of the revenue had not been allocated for the LIRR. “If we’re going to ask Long Island drivers to pay more,” Kaminsky said, “it better come with an incredible influx of money for the Long Island Rail Road.” It is not known when congestion pricing will take effect.

Recreational marijuana was not included in the budget, as Cuomo had hoped.