Brian Pugh: Options for the Reusable Bag Initiative

To the Editor:pugh2016
As regular readers of the Gazette know, the Village of Croton is contemplating a reusable bag policy in response to a petition from local residents earlier this year. At this time, we are reviewing two options: 1) a ban on plastic bags and a mandatory fee for paper bags modeled on the local law adopted in New Castle or 2) a fee on both kinds of bags modeled on the local law adopted in Bedford. To be clear, the Board of Trustees has not formally adopted either policy at this time.
The first option, a ban on plastic bags with a fee on paper ones, was the policy requested in the petition from Village residents. The second option, a fee on paper and plastic bags, is the policy preferred by the Food Industry Alliance, a trade group representing the grocery industry, of which ShopRite is a member.
Critically, FIA has sued other communities that have adopted ban laws. Currently, this remains an area of unsettled law. Based on the experience of other communities that have defended such suits, the legal bills could easily approach or exceed $100,000. Further, the course of a lawsuit is far from certain: a few years ago, the Village, as a respondent, successfully defended itself against Article 78 litigation but at the price of $432,000. As an unbudgeted expense, these legal fees would have to be taken directly from our Village’s contingency fund.
It’s also unclear whether paying to defend such a lawsuit would be the most efficient use of Village resources. For a fraction of the estimated cost of defending a lawsuit, around $30,000, the Village could easily buy more than 10 reusable bags at retail prices for each of the 3,077 households in our Village and distribute them for free.
However, legislative cooperation rather than legal conflict may achieve our environmental aims at a lower cost to the community. It has been intimated to the Village that the FIA is willing to work with the Village regarding a law that imposed a fee on both plastic and paper. This could include the distribution of free reusable bags to the community by FIA member merchants in advance of the effective date of such a fee/fee law.
Several weeks ago, the Village Board directed the Village Attorney to begin preparation of an Environmental Assessment Form, required under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) for Option 1–a proposed ban on plastic bags and a fee on paper bags. I described the key features of this legislation in a September 21, 2018 letter to the Gazette.
At Monday’s meeting, the Village Board of Trustees considered Option 2 to place a fee on single-use bags (both plastic AND paper). In a 3-2 vote, we referred it to the Waterfront Advisory Council as a preliminary step under the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP) process. This was not a final vote on a policy, but rather one part of a longer process of deliberation by the Village Board.
This proposed legislation would impose a fee of 20 cents on both paper and plastic single-use bags over 5,000 square feet in space (covering ShopRite and CVS). It would also provide some common sense exemptions from this fee for items including fruits, meats, unwrapped prepared goods, etc.
In addition, Customers using Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) would be exempt from paying a fee for single-use bags.
The proposed legislation would establish a Reusable Bag Task Force. If the Reusable Bag Task Force finds that single-use carryout bag use has not decreased among the covered stores by 50%, then the Village Board may consider one or more of the following revisions to this chapter: an increase in the fee, an outright ban on single- use plastic bags and expansion of the definition of covered stores to include additional establishments.
Logic and empirical data suggests that few people will pay a fee of 20 cents to purchase a plastic bag for their groceries. The overwhelming majority will either choose a reusable bag (which would pay for itself after just a few visits to the store) or a paper bag.
The NYS Plastic Bag Task Force, reports that on “an international level, bag fees have resulted in a reduction in single-use plastic bag use ranging from 50%-90%.” For comparison, the Los Angeles County ban on single-use plastic bags with a 10-cent fee on recyclable paper bags resulted in a 94% reduction in single-use bag use. That is to say a properly designed policy charging fees for both paper and plastic can achieve results similar to an outright ban.
The Board sincerely appreciates the passion and effort of the grassroots activists that have brought forward the issue of single-use bags. I, and the rest the Board, will do our best to find an outcome that best serves the public interest.
Currently, both these proposed policies, a ban on plastic and a fee for paper bags and fee on both paper and plastic, will continue through the environmental review process. The Board of Trustees will continue to consider both these policies, seeking an amicable outcome that will balance the public interest in protecting the environment with the Board’s responsibility for fiscal stewardship.
Brian Pugh

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