SOUTH SALEM, N.Y. – At the Lewisboro Town Board meeting on June 11, a public hearing was held to discuss the impact of a proposed ban on plastic bags at retailers in the area. Under the law, which, if passed, would take effect Jan. 1, retailers would only provide either paper bags or reusable cloth bags to their customers. If customers opted for a paper bag, they would have to pay 15 cents per bag.

In her address to the board at the start of the hearing, Elizabeth Meyer-Gross of the town’s Sustainability Committee said that Americans currently use 100 billion plastic bags a year, and that these bags are slowly placing a stranglehold on the environment.

“They’re in the ocean, they’re on the shore,” she said. “They’re clogging drains and causing floods. As a matter of fact, in 2010, Save the Sound reported that, in just one day of cleanup of the Sound, they picked up 5,383 plastic bags.”

Sign Up for E-News

Additionally, she addressed the environmental concerns involved in the creation of the bags even before they reach stores.

“One hundred billion plastic bags requires 12 million barrels of oil,” she said. “This is an enormous drain on our finite resources.”

Meyer-Gross also disputed the argument that recycling is an effective method for dealing with plastic bags, noting that China no longer takes our recyclable materials.

“Now the burden is on the United States,” she said. “It is too costly and inefficient to do it here.”

Lisa Silver, a 12-year resident of Lewisboro and a member of the Sustainability Committee, spoke to the health effects of having so much plastic introduced into our environment, citing a 2010 study by the Harvard School of Public Health.

“Of all the Americans surveyed, ages 6 and above,” she said, “ninety-three percent contained detectable amounts of plastic in their urine and bloodstream.”

Steven Wolk, chairman of the New Castle Sustainability Advisory Board, also spoke at the hearing, commenting on how the ban of plastic bags has been received in New Castle.

“One of the biggest stores in our area, that would have given out 30,000 bags a week, now gives out 18,000,” Wolk said. “So they’re saving 12,000 bags a week and over 600,000 plastic bags a year.”

Speaking out in opposition of an all-out ban, Jay Peltz, general counsel and senior vice president of public relations for the Food Industry Alliance of New York, weighed in on the debate.

“Nationally, plastic bag bans have not banished plastic bags from anywhere,” he said, “including the jurisdictions that adopted them.

“Ironically,” he continued, “plastic bag bans adversely impact the environment because they typically result in a surge in paper bag distribution.”

He went on to cite the town of New Castle as an example, saying that, after the ban went into effect, paper bag distribution increased to 12,000 bags a week in Millwood.

“Twelve thousand paper bags per week is a sky-high number,” he said. “At a typical grocery store, even one doing a lot more volume than the Millwood store, paper bag distribution is under 1,000 a week.”

He also commented that, should the law go into effect, Lewisboro stores such as Acme and DeCicco’s stand to lose customers who would rather shop elsewhere than have to bring their own bags every time they go shopping. Peltz suggested offering a fee for both paper and plastic bags, as opposed to just paper bags, as the proposed law states, citing a ban in Suffolk County that went into effect in January and has seen an 80 percent reduction in the use of paper and plastic. He asked that the law, as it is currently written, be withdrawn in favor of something similar to what is on the books in Suffolk.

Daniel Cooper, the store director for the Acme in Goldens Bridge, also spoke at the hearing, voicing his own concerns about how his business would be affected.

“A lot of our customers are from Heritage Hills (in Somers),” he said. “And I feel that they might choose to go to DeCicco’s in Somers (scheduled to open later this year), as opposed to coming down the road and paying 15 cents to use a bag.” He also supported the Food Industry Alliance proposal of an equal fee for all disposable bags.

Meyer-Gross’s husband, Peter, spoke out in favor of the law, asking that all those present look at the problem from a local level.

“Sure, there’s a lot going on in other communities and other countries around the world, but we can stand right here and say that Lewisboro will not be a part of it anymore,” he said. “We are not going to be contributing that level of plastic to the environment to kill animals, harm our health and ruin the world with a lack of concern.” 

Town Supervisor Peter Parsons proposed deferring further action on the law for two weeks to allow for certain aspects of it to be reviewed and to hear from other local merchants.