By David Luces
It has been more than a year since the 5-cent tax for plastic bags at retail stores took effect in Suffolk County. The main goal of the legislation was to reduce bag waste by encouraging shoppers to bring their own reusable bags and avoid the fee.
Some residents were reluctant to support the 5-cent per plastic bag fee citing that the money would be going back to the store. Instead, they thought it should be given to charity or used for environmental causes.
Charlie Reichert, owner of IGA Fort Salonga Market, did just that when he announced in late January 2018 that he would be donating all proceeds from the county’s 5-cent fee to benefit local nonprofit institutions.
““It came to me when people were really complaining about the plastic bag, ‘Why are you charging a nickel? Why are you getting the money? That gave me the idea, why don’t we give the money to charity.”
— Charlie Reichert
“It came to me when people were really complaining about the plastic bag, ‘Why are you charging a nickel? Why are you getting the money?’” Reichert said to TBR News Media in January 2018. “That gave me the idea, why don’t we give the money to charity.”
The business owner estimated the nickel surcharge to generate approximately $6,000 to $7,000 a month for charity. Fast forward a year, and Reichert said his five IGA supermarket locations in Bayville, Fort Salonga, Greenport, East Northport and Southold have generated more than $40,000, which has been donated to Huntington Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.
Reichert was hopeful he would be able to get other businesses to support his cause and donate as well, but the effort has not seen the same success.
Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) expressed similar hope in January 2018 that the initiative could potentially result in millions of dollars being donated to local charities.
Trotta said he reached out to ShopRite locations in Hauppauge and Patchogue, which allegedly planned on donating proceeds of the fee to Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares, a food bank and pantry, specifically to benefit veterans in need last January.
Susan Eckert, legislative aide for Trotta, said his office also reached out to 14 other stores. Many said they would contact their corporate offices and, if interested, would call back — not one did. Two national corporations, Walmart and Target, said if they chose to donate the plastic bag fee to charity, it would go to their corporate foundations.
Robin Amato, chief development officer and communications director at Long Island Cares, said her nonprofit organization did not receive any donations as a result of the new tax.
“Although everyone’s intentions were good I am sure we did not receive any of the bag fees as donations,” Amato said. “All the ShopRite stores and families are very supportive of Long Island Cares and if the fees did come through they were not noted as such.”
In April 2018, the nonprofit advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment conducted a survey of 6,000 people in 20 grocery stores throughout Suffolk. The study found 30 percent of respondents bought plastic bags and 43 percent were carrying reusable ones. This showed a drastic change from late 2017, when a similar survey found only 6 percent of customers used a reusable bag.
Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment announced intentions to conduct another study at the end of 2018 to gather a much larger sample size and determine the legislation’s impact. Phone calls to the CCE were not returned.
New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has called for a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in his 2019 Executive Budget proposal. The governor put a measure before the state Legislature in 2018, but it was not voted on.