At the full board meeting of the Dutchess County Legislature on December 6, 2018, the Dutchess County Legislature approved a ban on disposable plastic shopping bags to take effect on January 1, 2020. The 23-1 move comes following proposals put forward by Legislator Nick Page (D-Beacon) and the Democratic caucus.

“This is a good first step,” said Legislator Rebecca Edwards (D-Town of Poughkeepsie). “But it’s disappointing that the Republican majority refused to accept a stronger bill – one that would really alter consumer behavior and do much more to protect humans, wildlife, waterways, and machinery from the plastic-bag nuisance.”

Laws aimed at reducing or eliminating the use of disposable shopping bags have been around for over fifteen years – there are over sixty countries which have shopping bag laws in place and almost 350 bag laws in place in the United States alone. This has left no doubt that legislation can shift our shopping bag habit from disposables to reusables, and a clear map of how to do so most effectively.

Thin plastic bags are rarely recycled, and, when burned in trash incinerators such as our local plant in the Town of Poughkeepsie, emit harmful dioxins and other chemicals.

Considered and rejected by Republican legislators was what experts say would be a more effective plastic bag ban / 5 cent fee on other disposable bags hybrid law similar to that recently adopted by Ulster County. The proposal would have exempted purchases made through the SNAP/WIC programs from the fee to protect low-income shoppers.

“Despite unanimous expert opinion, mountains of empirical evidence, and overwhelming public support, the majority would only accept a straight plastic bag ban while shunning bills that would implement a disposable bag fee,” said Page.

The hybrid approach has been found to reduce disposable bag usage far more than a simple ban by incentivizing shoppers to bring reusable bags rather than pushing them to use more paper bags. While biodegradable and more recyclable, paper bags cost more, are heavier to ship and still have a significant environmental footprint.

“After a decade of my introducing legislation for this to happen, I’m thrilled to see this finally become reality,” said Legislator Joel Tyner (D-Clinton). “We just need to make sure thousands of trees aren’t cut down to make paper bags after this law goes into effect.”

“20 kids a year die from choking on plastic bags and 600 children since 1990 have choked on plastic bags,” said Legislator Giancarlo Llaverias (D-Town of Poughkeepsie). “Yes, plastic bags are harmful to the environment, but they are just as harmful and dangerous to our children. Passing this resolution ensures not only the safety of our environment, but also our children.”

“It’s gratifying, as a member of the minority, to see us lurch toward some progress, but that’s tinged with frustration when we’re just taking baby steps, which is what this rather tepid half-measure of a simple ban on single use plastic bags is,” said Legislator Frits Zernike (D-Beacon). “The grown up route is through a ban and fee hybrid law, like they’ve passed in Ulster. Unfortunately, the Republican majority in our legislature is content to plod along behind when we could be leaping ahead. What saddens me further is the missed opportunity to really start to shift our entire attitude away from disposability toward a more sustainable outlook.”