December 2, 2021

For Cortland County, not in the (plastic) bag

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Plastic bags lie strewn near a picnic table near the Riverside Plaza in the city. Neighboring Madison County is among the counties that have proposed banning plastic bags to protect the environment.

Imagine taking a trip to the grocery store, loading up the cart with items and going through the checkout. The end result is a handful of plastic bags. Some people reuse them, most just toss them in the garbage.

Northeast of Cortland County, the Madison County Legislature has proposed a law to ban plastic carryout bags in the county. A public hearing is scheduled for May 9.

While steps are being taken in Madison County, which would affect DeRuyter, similar discussions have not happened here in Cortland County, but they could.
There hasn’t been talk on the subject yet in the county Legislature due to budget discussions, said Charles Sudbrink, chairman of the Legislature’s Solid Waste Committee. “I believe it will come up in discussion.”

Sudbrink said he is unsure if Cortland County would look at a similar ban and said talks may be in the future. “We may discuss it in the committee meeting next week.”

The proposed law, entitled “Carryout Bag Reduction,” seeks to protect the environment, reduce pollution and control litter by eliminating the single-use plastic carryout bag from certain retail stores, according to a Madison County news release.

Plastic bags are among the more problematic types of trash and litter. Even when properly disposed of, they take between 500 to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill; even then, they do not biodegrade but rather break apart into ever smaller pieces that cannot be absorbed by the soil as nutrients or digested by microbes.

Plastic bags can clog sewers and storm drains; worsen flooding that threatens low-lying neighborhoods; and accumulate in rivers, streams and lakes, where they can become a threat to aquatic life, the release states.

But retailers have to put the products they sell into something. “They are unbelievably cheaper (than paper),” said John Sears, owner of Bill Brothers Dairy and Farm Market in Cortland and McGraw. “It (a ban) would kill me.”