Ulster County once again has set the example. Now, it is time for others to follow by talking and acting.
The example this time comes in a ban on single-use plastic bags in the entire county, the first one in New York state to pass such a law although a dozen other New York municipalities and counties have passed some form of legislation seeking to reduce their use. Suffolk County allows plastic bags but began imposing a 5-cent surcharge on both paper and plastic bags in January.
The Ulster law takes effect July 15 and applies a 5-cent fee for paper bags. Businesses that violate the law after first getting a written warning are subject to fines of up to $100 for the first offense, $250 for the second and $550 for the third and subsequent violations.
Legislator Tracey Bartels, an independent from Gardiner, was the primary sponsor of the bill, which passed the county Legislature 15-7 last month.
“Every year, New Yorkers use more than 20 billion plastic bags, and just two weeks ago, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world has 12 years to act to prevent catastrophe,” Bartels said. “Today, with this bill, Ulster County commits to taking action.”
The county executive, Mike Hein, signed the bill into law and said he looks “forward to working together to make this plastic bag ban a reality as we continue to protect our children, our families and our environment for generations to come.”
Those who might be tempted to follow the Ulster example will need to do some work to convince legislators who might see this as an unwarranted intrusion into local business practices or who might be sympathetic to the general idea but wary of a ban considering research that shows the carbon footprint, the energy expended and pollution produced, is lower for plastic bags than for paper ones. But plastic bags also have a very visible, very obvious detrimental impact on the environment starting with roadside litter and continuing to the effect they have on landfills.
Any government considering action also should look at an issue that came up in New York City earlier this year — plastic straws. Some chains and stores have voluntarily ended their use after learning about the difficulty of recycling them, their contribution to the growth of landfills filled with things that do not dissolve and even the presence of high levels of plastic fibers in tap water from public supplies.
The importance of the action in Ulster County is not only measured by the immediate impact on the local environment. Just as important is the elevation of the issue in local politics and government and the realization that we do not have to wait for the federal government or other nations to act to have an impact.
Never has the slogan “think globally, act locally” been more important than it is now with an administration in Washington that would prefer that we neither think much at all nor act.
Nearby counties should be putting these ideas on their agendas and inviting informed citizens to join in the discussion.