AUBURN — Cayuga County could one day become one of several New York counties limiting single-use plastic bags after legislators Thursday asked county staff to research the possible benefits and problems of such policies.
In response to an earlier request from Legislator Charles Ripley, R-Summerhill, asking for information about a possible ban, County Health Department Director Kathleen Cuddy presented some initial findings at Thursday's meeting of the Cayuga County Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee.
Ripley said he was prompted to ask for the information after dismaying over the amount of bags and other litter he sees while driving throughout the county and the adverse effects they can have on wildlife, the environment and more.
Without further information, Ripley said he did not necessarily have an opinion on the ban one way or the other, but thought it was important to bring it to the committee's attention.
“At least we can say we discussed it,” Ripley said.
Using a survey from the New York State Association of County Health Officials, Cuddy outlined the specific plastic bag policies of several counties that were considering implementing or had implemented bans or other management practices.
Ulster County held a public hearing in June for a proposed law that would ban single-use plastic bags and charge 5 cents for recyclable paper bags sold to customers. Madison County tabled a ban in February, while Suffolk County had its law, modeled on California's, take effect in January.
That law, Cuddy said, charges a 5-cent fee for both plastic and paper bags, with some exceptions, to encourage the use of reusable bags. Money raised from the fees is returned to the stores. The law also includes a provision that if the use of plastic bags does not decrease by 75 percent within three years an outright ban could be reconsidered.
County Administrator J. Justin Woods said, if the legislators requested, he could go through the process of researching a possible ban, whether it took the form of an outright ban, a tax or some other incentive to lessen the impact on low-income residents and draft a resolution.
A task force on the plastic bag issue convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a final report in January this year after starting in March 2017.
The task force proposed, along with listing the pros and cons for, eight possible statewide measures to reduce plastic bag use:
• Strengthen and enforce existing New York State Plastic Bag Reducation, Reuse and Recycling Act
• Manufacturer responsibility for recycling of single-use plastic bags
• Fee on single-use plastic bags
• Fee per transaction for single-use bags
• Fee on single-use plastic and paper bags
• Ban single-use plastic bags
• Ban on plastic bags with a fee on the allowable alternatives
• Continuing existing policies
Ultimately, neither the governor nor the state Legislature have acted on any of the task force's recommendations.
Legislator Chris Petrus, R-Brutus, said he needed to see empirical data supporting such laws, adding that New York is already one of the most highly taxed states in the country and that he would be reluctant to add another tax.
While noting that single-use plastic backs do pose a significant environmental problem, specifically the fact that they do not biodegrade, Legislator Keith Batman, D-Springport agreed with Petrus on the need for further research.
“There's a lot of things we don't want to sacrifice and create difficulties for people,” Batman said, referencing the potential harm to small retailers within the county as well as low-income residents that would be disadvantaged by a fee on bags.
In addition to plastic bags, Legislator Aileen McNabb-Coleman, D-Sennett, asked Woods if he could also research the possibility of Styrofoam being regulated, describing how often she sees disposable cups or other waste scattered around the shore of Owasco Lake, on roads, or near playgrounds.