Kingston lawmakers have kicked off a discussion on how to curb the use of single-use plastic bags in the city. But, with lawmakers’ proposals ranging from an outright ban to an educational campaign on the bags’ environmental toll, city residents are unlikely to see major changes anytime soon.
“The votes aren’t there now,” said Alderman Brad Will (D-Ward 3) who supports a total ban on single-use plastic bags. “But I think its time to support these kinds of bans to move us towards being a zero-waste community.”
Single-use plastic bags, detractors say, are an absolute blight on the environment. They clog landfills and recycling plants and end up as unsightly roadside litter or ocean waste. Dozens of towns and cities and one entire state, California, have opted to ban single-use plastic bags. The bans typically target only retail operations, like grocery stores, which generate a large volume of them. Last year, the Village of New Paltz voted to ban the bags starting this April 15. Violators could be fined as much as $150 for repeated offenses. Also last year, Westchester County Village of Hastings-on-Hudson voted to ban the bags (along with styrofoam containers). The legislation reads in part; “Easily wind-borne, plastic bags and styrofoam containers litter our community, clog our storm drains, impact terrestrial and marine wildlife and entangle the machinery in our county commingled recycling system.”
That law was swiftly challenged by Food Industry Alliance of New York State which has filed suit to require a full environmental review of the ban before it can go into effect.
That lawsuit, and concerns that Kingston residents may not be ready to kick the plastic bag habit, have some Kingston lawmakers urging a go-slow approach.
“I don’t think it makes sense to go forward with a ban until [the Hastings-on-Hudson] lawsuit is settled,” said Alderman Bill Carey (D-Ward 5).
Carey said he prefers less punitive measures to cut down on bag waste, including an education campaign or inducing a company which specializes in recycling the bags to set up a local operation. (Currently, many stores which dispense the bags have set up bins to collect them for recycling.)
Alderman Brian Seche (D-Ward 2), who suggested efforts to curb plastic bags at a council caucus meeting last month, said he would support requiring retailers to charge a small fee for plastic bags rather than an outright ban. Seche said the approach would encourage people to bring their own reusable bags while shopping and not imposing a serious hardship on those who don’t.
“I think that’s a more economically and business-friendly way to convert people rather than taking a Big Brother approach,” said Seche.
Currently, there is no plastic bag legislation before the council and it’s unclear when or if an actual law will be drafted. The city’s Conservation Advisory Council is expected to take up the issue and come back with recommendations, including, potentially, model legislation. Council Majority Leader Matt Dunn (D-Ward 1) said he expects the issue would be hashed out in an ongoing discussion by the council’s Public Safety and General Governance Committee.
“We know there’s a significant problem with plastic bags,” said Dunn. “We’ve seen municipalities around the country taking different steps to deal with it. I think it’s a good discussion to be having.”