Story by Shelley R. Clapper
The Warwick Town Board held a public hearing on Thurs., Feb. 22 prior to their regular meeting to discuss the introduction of a fee for carry-out bags at supermarkets. The hearing garnered much interest from Warwick residents who were interested in sharing their opinions on the new proposed law.
Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton said that the proposed law on carry-out bags was some years in the making.
“The issue is how can we reduce our use of a hard-to-recycle item that takes a lot of energy to produce? This is one way to try to encourage people to use their reusable bags,” said Supervisor Michael Sweeton.
The Town Board did extensive research prior to the proposal of the new law which included speaking to representatives of supermarkets, viewing legislation and speaking to senior citizens. Sweeton visited the seven senior clubs in the Town of Warwick and spoke with the members. He learned that more than half of the seniors he spoke with already use reusable bags.
F.I.A. Supports Proposed Law
Supervisor Sweeton read a letter the Town received from Jay Pelz, the General Counsel and Vice President of Government Relations for the Food Industry Alliance of New York State (FIA).
The letter stated, “FIA supports the purpose of the proposed local law which, as provided in the legislative intent section of the bill, is to promote the use of reusable bags over carryout bags, in order to reduce the negative environmental and economic impacts associated with carryout bags. The Town finds that imposing a bag fee on the customer can create a shift in consumer behavior toward the use of reusable bags and significantly reduce the amount of carryout bags within our Town. Due to the resources and energy used to manufacture reusable bags, the production of reusable totes does not help the environment. Rather, only the reuse of reusable bags will benefit the environment. That is exactly what the bill will accomplish. By requiring a minimum fee of five cents for each plastic, paper and reusable bag provided at the point of sale, customers will be fully incentivized to use reusable bags every time they shop. This will maximize the reuse of reusable bags over time.”
Pelz also wrote, “We would like to thank Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton and the Warwick residents who participated in the consensus-building process for their thoughtful and deliberate work on this issue. Assuming the proposed local law is enacted, we look forward to working with Warwick stakeholders on the successful implementation of this important legislation.”
Sustainable Warwick & BYOBag Campaign
A representative from Sustainable Warwick, who indicated that the supermarkets had been very helpful to them in their own BYOBag campaign, said, “They gave us hundreds of reusable bags to give away in order to encourage reusable bag use. They allowed us to put out signs on their property and they also put us in touch with the Food Industry Alliance, which has been extremely supportive of this effort.”
Sustainable Warwick Chair Geoff Howard said that part of the reason that Warwick is such a special place has to do with the collaboration efforts between the residents and the local government. He gave examples of how Warwick preserves farmlands and has prevented fracking. He said that the plastic bags incentive is just another one of these collaborative efforts.
Enriching the Food Industry
Local resident and Attorney Deborah Young said that although she is environmentally conscious, she believes that the consumer would be punished with this new law and that the food industry is behind this push to charge for plastic bags.
“The bottom line is the sale of the reusable bag and that angers many people that I spoke to in this town. The food industry is getting a nickel for every bag sold. Is it legal for us to impose a tax on people that profits only businesses?,” said Young.
She expressed another argument against the proposal. She said that people who are on federal or state assistance will feel embarrassed to ask for free plastic bags.
Plastic Bags Are Worst Contaminants in Recycling
Another local resident said that when she contacted the County recycle coordinator to ask him who would be the best person to talk to about recycling plastic bags, she was referred to the solid waste recycling specialist for Buffalo, NY.
At the meeting she read the letter that the recycling specialist Gary Farrell had written to her which stated, “Many municipalities regard plastic bags as the worst contaminants in recycling bins. Plastic bags get caught in the sorting equipment which cause the programs money and are not recycled. The plastic bags interfere with the automatic sorting machine because conveyer belts feed the recycling into rotating tunnels and onto spinning wheels that separate plastic, glass, paper, and aluminum. Plastic bags cannot be sorted with other materials as they jam spinning wheels and sometimes they cause injuries.”
A 15-year-old Warwick resident spoke at the meeting saying, “What it comes down to is our responsibility to protect the environment. At 15 I am doing all I can. Every time I go shopping I have my reusable bags and I have never had a need to use a plastic one. I am doing all I can to protect the environment.”
Warwick Resident Joe Dan said that one of the reasons that he came to Warwick was because of the beautiful environment.
Dan said, “My concern is that we continue to lose population in Warwick and in other parts of New York because we are being nickel and dimed to death. There are a lot of seniors who cannot be here today that cannot afford the fees. It is going to be a problem for them.”
Another resident, Edward George, brought up some points against the proposed law. He said that although he brings reusable bags to supermarkets he finds that he never has enough and he ends up using plastic bags as well. He said that the law penalizes people who don’t have money. He also said that meat should be separated from other groceries with plastic bags for sanitary purposes. He uses the supermarket plastic bags for cat litter and if he did not have these he would have to purchase plastic bags for this purpose.
Public Hearing on Carry-Out Bag Fee to Continue
Supervisor Sweeton said that the public hearing on the proposed law to impose a fee for the use of plastic bags at supermarkets would reconvene at the next Town Board meeting for more public comment. The Board will also continue to solicit written opinions till the next Town Board meeting on Thurs., Mar. 8.
Public Hearing on Extending Property Tax Exemption for Cold War Vets
At the meeting there was also a public hearing on the proposed law #1 of 2018 amending Chapter 144 to extend the exemption on property tax for Cold War Vets. The motion passed to adopt the proposed law.
Humane Society Fundraisers
Also at the meeting, Town Councilman Floyd DeAngelo said that the President of the Warwick Humane Society reported that the fourth annual Polar Plunge, held in Greenwood Lake on Sun., Feb. 18, was successful and raised $4,500 for the Humane Society. Also, they wanted to thank the Breezy Point Inn owners for hosting them.
DeAngelo reported that the next fundraiser will be the “Fore the Animals Golf Outing” on Mon., May 7 at the Mansion Ridge Golf Course in Monroe, NY. They are in need of tee sponsors and prize contributors.
DeAngelo reported that the Humane Society currently has 50 dogs available for adoption, including a one-year-old Siberian Husky, a two-year-old Anatolian Shepherd/Great Pyrenees mix, a four-year-old Pomeranian, a one-year-old Doberman mix, and a two-year-old Mastiff mix. They also have 90 cats, six rabbits, one guinea pig, and one rooster.
Fish at Wickham Lake
Councilman Russell Kowal reported on the fish population in Wickham Lake. Kowal said that the lake had once been a good fish habitat and that there had even been fishing competitions there in the 1950s. He has reached out to NYS Senator John Bonacic and Assemblyman Karl Brabenec.
Senator Bonacic responded positively saying, “In order for the D.E.C. (Department of Environmental Conservation) to stock fish here we will need to conduct a boat electro-fishing survey to assess the fish community. Our staff is planning to complete this in the spring.”
Next Town Board Meeting
The next Town Board meeting will be held on Thurs., Mar. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Warwick Town Hall, located at 132 Kings Hwy. in Warwick, NY.