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Plastic, paper bags will cost 5 cents each in Suffolk County starting January 1

Suffolk County’s new “bring your own bag” law goes into effect on Jan. 1, imposing a 5-cent fee on both paper and plastic bags carry-out bags — and according to survey data released today by an environmental watchdog group, the vast majority of Suffolk shoppers will either have to change their habits or find their grocery bills going up in the New Year.

A survey conducted at eight locations in Suffolk during the past two months indicates that  71 percent of shoppers use carry-out plastic bags, according to Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Students from six high schools and St. Joseph’s College surveyed 11,395 individuals outside grocery stores, pharmacies, and convenience stores in Suffolk.

Suffolk’s bring-your-own bag law, adopted in September 2016, is an attempt to cut down on pollution caused by single-use plastic bags, which often end up being discarded as litter after they are used and pose a risk to both wildlife and the environment. A 5-cent per bag fee will be charged to all carry-out bags except those used to carry prescription drugs and plastic film bags used to keep food items from coming into contact with each other, such as those used to bag produce or packages of meat.

The fees charged by stores must be separately itemized on the customer’s receipt. All fees collected by a covered store under this local law will be retained by the store. Stores that violate the law are subject to a civil fine of $500 per violation.

The law is less severe than its original version, which would have banned most typical plastic bags used by grocery stores. The original version of the law would have only permitted plastic bags if they were thick enough to be “reusable,” and would have required a 10-cent-per-bag fee.

After pushback from local grocery store and retail associations, the legislature amended the law to continue allowing the plastic bags that are currently available but impose the 5-cent fee instead.

“Throw-a-way bags are not free. They pollute beaches, parks, clog infrastructure and kill marine and bird life,” said Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

“Making the switch to reusable bags is an easy way to protect our environment, carry our purchases, and avoid a nickel fee. Let’s all make a New Year Resolutions to BYOB—bring your own bags to the store,” she said.

Katie Blasl
Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a reporter, editor and web developer for the LOCAL news websites. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie