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Local elected officials slam plastic bag ban

OBSERVER Photo. Tops will soon no longer have plastic bags for their customers.

Three Republican elected officials at different levels of government — county, state and federal — are against the approved plastic bag ban in the 2019-20 state budget that will go into effect in March 2020.

George Borrello, county executive, said there is evidence to suggest a plastic bag ban is not effective and harms local retailers. He compared plastic bag usage to the amount of plastic material used in an Amazon shipment.

“There’s a hell of a lot more plastic packaging in (an Amazon) package when they often ship just one item,” Borrello said. “Are we really doing something that just feels good or are we doing something that will truly impact (pollution)?”

Borrello said when you see a plastic bag floating down the street or in the water that everyone thinks that is awful, but instead of a ban he said littering laws should be enforced.

“This is about ensuring people take responsible action,” he said. “I think in general, although I understand this is a well-meaning law and I personally try to avoid plastic bags as much as possible, but to compel our retailers it could be potentially harmful and it’s not addressing, perhaps, the bigger issues out there when it comes to plastic pollution.”

Andy Goodell, state assemblyman, agreed with Borrello that litter laws should be enforced instead of the state Legislature approving a plastic bag ban.

“The problem in New York City is you have so many residents that litter plastic bags that it’s a problem,” he said. “In Chautauqua County many of us are responsible and don’t litter as much, and even recycle plastic bags. The New York state Legislature pursued a ban instead of using New York state litter laws to go after those that litter.”

Goodell also said it doesn’t make sense from an environmental standpoint to ban plastic bags. He said it takes more energy to create heavier paper bags and paper bags also generate five times the amount of solid waste than a plastic bag. He added cotton reusable bags are also bulkier than plastic bags and have to be reused 131 times before they yield any environmental benefits.

“Those that support banning plastic bags know there are a lot of them in the ocean. However, 95 percent of the plastic in the ocean comes from 10 rivers, with eight of them being located in Asia and two in Africa, and not a single river in the U.S. is in the Top 10,” he said. “So rather than seeking personal responsibility and enforce anti-litter laws already on the books, the New York City legislators pushed for a ban on plastic bags that will impact millions who thoughtfully recycle bags, or reuse those bags for kitty litter or to clean up after their dog or thousands of other uses.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, said the plastic bag ban is another example of trying to find an item to tax to generate revenue to cover state elected official spending that is “never ending.”

“There is a one party rule to tax everything to cover excessive spending,” Reed said. “Until spending changes, we will constantly have this conversation.”

In the proposal passed by the state Legislature, counties and cities have the option to charge three cents for paper bags, with three cents going to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and two cents being kept by local governments.

Borrello, who might not be the county executive, but the new representative of the 57th District in the state Senate by the time the plastic bag ban is implemented, said the Chautauqua County Legislature will have to figure out if the ban is a further burden on the community and decide if the county will opt out of the charging a five cent deposit.

“As typical with the state, they’re giving us an opportunity to opt out of revenue,” he said. “People have the misconception that counties can opt out of the ban, but we cannot. We can opt out from charging the five cent deposit or five cent fee per bag.”

Exemptions for the ban include bags for uncooked meat, fish or poultry; sliced or prepared foods; delivered newspapers; prescription drugs; trash bags; food-storage bags; garment bags and bags for restaurant carryout orders.

With the ban on plastic bags, New York will join California and Hawaii as the only states where they are banned throughout the state.

Jordan Patterson contributed to this story.

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