East Hampton Village took a small but significant step late last month in banning the use of certain plastic bags by retailers and restaurants. It is only the second local government in the State of New York to enact such a measure, after Southampton Village. Following the village board’s sensible decision, we hope that the Town of East Hampton will put similar restrictions in place.
The new village law will give retailers until early next year to exhaust their supplies. Once the six-month grace period is up, however, places like the chain supermarket Waldbaum’s will have the option of providing customers with recycled-paper bags or expecting them to bring along their own bags, as some shoppers already do. Exempted are bags larger than 28-by-36 inches and those thick enough — 2.25 mils, for the record — to be used again.
For example, the distinctive white-and-orange bags from the high-end grocery Citarella are likely to remain in circulation; the wispy ones from the Chinese takeout place off Newtown Lane as well as the supermarket will be no more. The Ladies Village Improvement Society, whose members recycle plastic sacks for use in the Bargain Books and Bargain Box shops, will, like other nonprofits, be exempt from compliance.
Plastic bags are part of a much larger picture of the United States’ dependence on the fossil fuels used to make them. Global energy security is (or should be) a top concern for Washington. While a village like East Hampton can make only a tiny contribution to reducing this country’s dependence on imported oil, every bit helps. After the bags are used, they end up in landfills or flutter off into the environment, where they slowly break down into ever-smaller fragments and can then work their way into the marine and terrestrial food chains.
Southampton Village led the way, and Southampton Town officials are in preliminary discussions about a townwide ban. Suffolk lawmakers have from time to time considered the possibility, but have failed to take action, though there is still hope. East Hampton Town, which must deal with the hundreds of thousands of these bags that pass through its waste facilities each year, would benefit directly from reducing the stream. It should consider a ban at its earliest convenience.
East Hampton Village officials deserve a hearty cry of “Well done!” for this unabashedly bold move to help the planet.