Ulster County leaders believe there would be more "beauty in the world" without plastic bags dancing, overflowing landfills, eventually breaking into microplastics (tiny pieces of plastic smaller than a sesame seed), ending up in rivers, killing wildlife and killing food sources.
Advocates from the environmental watchdog Riverkeeper said on Thursday that an estimated 20 billion one-time-use plastic bags are used in New York State each year. Samples have shown microplastics in the Hudson River estuary and in the tissue of fish.
To address a worldwide plastic pollution crisis on a local scale, Ulster County lawmakers passed the BYOBag Act, which will ban the use of plastic bags at grocery stores and department stores throughout Ulster County, beginning in July 2019.
Consumers will be able to bring their own reusable bags, or pay $0.05 for each recycled paper bag, according to the act, which was signed into law at a ceremony in the Ulster County Executive's office on Thursday morning.
"This law is the gold standard for reducing plastic pollution from reducing single-use plastic bags, and encouraging the use of reusable bags," said Jeremy Cherson, the Riverkeeper legislative advocacy manager, after the bill signing.
As the legislation was moving, not everyone saw the beauty in the BYOBag Act.
At hearings this summer and fall, citizens overwhelmingly supported the law while there were some opposing comments by members of the state's convenience story lobby. Fifteen county legislators supported it; seven did not.
County Executive Mike Hein fully supports it calling the BYOBag Act.
"A law that will ultimately ensure there aren't those plastic bags flying everywhere, getting into the wastewaster system, and making not only animals sick, but people sick," he said during an interview after the bill signing.
Before the law takes effect, county officials plan to roll out a campaign to educate on the harms plastic poses to the environment, and to get reusable bags in the hands of all Ulster County residents.