Madison County to revisit local plastic bag ban law

Jim Goldstein, Solid Waste Committee Chairman

Public asked to remind their elected representatives of their views

The Madison County Solid Waste and Recycling Committee met Tuesday, Jan. 23, and reviewed our local law on a ban on certain types of carryout plastic bags.

Three public hearings were held on the proposed law in 2017 in which two-thirds of the comments were in favor of the proposed ban of certain types of carryout plastic bags from local residents.

The committee agreed it would like to present the proposed local law with some minor changes (we changed some exemptions when we found there was no basis for them in current state law)  for consideration by our March meeting. We are going to consult with the full board via the Committee of the Whole on February 13 in Wampsville to seek consensus for moving forward with this local law.

Because of the minor changes, this law would be introduced as a new law in 2018 and would have to have an additional public hearing as part of the process.

We have four new board of supervisor members — two from the City of Oneida, one from Lenox and one from Lincoln — who need some additional information and education but the feedback at the multiple public hearings we held during the day and evening was overwhelmingly in favor of the plastic bag carryout ban by nearly 70 percent and there were also local residents who emailed or sent in postcards with their views.

Half of the negative comments came from lobbyists representing the retail convenience store and grocery industry and a few grocery chains/local stores. Most of their complaints were about alleged cost of switching from plastic to paper bags by one group and simple inconvenience by another who use these flimsy toxic plastic bags for additional litter that ends up back in the landfill which we are trying to keep these bags out of.

First, our local law does not require merchants to make paper bags available and we think merchants have the opportunity to be creative, do promotions or joint projects with the county and others to distribute reusable fabric bags or give such bags away or sell them at cost. Madison County has used grant funds to distribute a significant number of reusable fabric bags and continues to promote recycling or use of reusable bags in grocery and retail convenience stores. Some retail chains in our county already incentivize recycling plastic bags, do not provide flimsy plastic carryout bags or charge for carryout bags.

Our goal is to keep such flimsy bags out of our landfill and ecosystem. Presently 95 percent of these bags return to the landfill as single use and disintegrate into smaller toxic pieces quickly and gum up waterways, culvert pipes and impact negatively on the environment – they are toxic to wildlife and the soil. So our consensus so far is that convenience is not a good argument for not passing this law because, candidly, we got into this environmental mess as a nation and world because of the convenience and throw away society culture which has to change if we are to survive the coming environmental challenges of the 21st century. Recycling these bags is extremely difficult, there is no market as China has closed its doors to these products,  and we see no indicators that bag fees would reduce this or solve the problem.

We have to transition to a new culture where utilizing reusable bags is a very small part of our effort to reverse pollution trends and preserve the environment because if we don’t, we won’t survive as a  community, society or species. The environment is not just an esoteric place where one takes idyllic hikes or enjoys beautiful vistas. It is our survival. Those of us out here in rural areas understand that if you poison the groundwater, or contaminate the soil, or jeopardize our  living quarters or create endless series of escalating climate-related crises, you jeopardize not only our way of life but our very survival. Without viable farmland and good weather, we cannot grow food; without clean air and water, we cannot survive and this impacts the entire food chain, and without safe and sustainable shelter and energy sources, there would be huge survival challenges.

This local law ban would be one very small step in the direction of becoming better stewards of the environment. I fully expect and intend to advocate for the passage of this law because most of the people who actually live in this county who we heard from support it and it is consistent with our tradition of environmental progressive thinking here in Madison County where we have embraced renewable energy and organic farm-to-market initiatives.

And I will encourage those in the public to remind their elected officials of the significant support that was shown last year for this law.

Madison County Supervisors in January, without any public notice due to a short timeline, voted down a recommendation in January from our committee that we ask Gov. Cuomo if he was going to enact a state legislative pre-emption on the plastic bag issue, to support a statewide ban. This was done due to the short notice; we had to weigh in with the Governor’s office before the State of the State address, and we supported the recommendation of statewide recycling groups. Despite it only being a letter to the governor, the “no” vote showed how some legislators think their constituents have forgotten about this issue and our job will be to remind the public to revisit the issue with their elected representatives, both new and those who were re-elected, of the widespread support for this law locally.

Now that the Governor’s task force has issued its report, which takes no specific position or makes no specific recommendation with regards to a statewide solution, we think it makes sense to revisit moving the local law forward.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.