New 5-Cent Fee for All Bags

A new Suffolk law is aimed at changing shoppers' habits where grocery bags are concerned. Durell Godfrey

Shoppers across Suffolk County may have noticed a few extra cents on their receipts this week. As of Monday, most stores in the county are required to charge a 5-cent fee for paper and plastic bags.

The fee, approved in 2016, is intended to encourage consumers to take their own reusable bags when they go shopping, with an eye to reducing waste and pollution. In the law instituting the fee, the County Legislature noted that “most plastic bags do not biodegrade” but rather “break down into smaller, more toxic petro-polymers, which eventually contaminate soils and waterways.” The bags wash up on the shore, birds become entangled in them, and marine animals can mistake them for food. In addition, the Legislature said, because plastic bags are made from oil, using fewer of them “will decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.” 

Paper bags are an environmental problem as well. “Fourteen million trees are cut down yearly for the manufacturing of paper,” the Legislature pointed out, adding that “paper production requires large amounts of water, energy, and chemicals and can emit toxic and hazardous chemicals into the air and water.”

The county’s new fee requirement for single-use bags follows a similar one enacted in New York City. Should the new fee fail to “reduce the use of plastic bags by at least 75 percent in three years, the idea of an outright ban can be revisited at a later date,” the law notes.