Bag Ban, Suffolk County

Most roadside litter, and I’ll hold to this statement till the cows come home, with facts and photos, comes right out through the car window. Period. It’s cigarette butts, plastic bags from the convenience store, fast food packaging, alcohol bottles and cans, soda, coffee and soft drink containers, diapers and drug paraphernalia. Nearly in that order. Adjacent to a big supermarket, you get stray bags as your primary problem, but only there. Garbage trucks spew trash sometimes as well, but that’s the exception and not the rule, and that is a problem that ought to be fixable without additional cost to the beleaguered taxpayer.

The vast majority of people who shop for food at a supermarket save their bags for reuse, and the bags never end up in a tree or in the bay or inside a turtle – they get used for household refuse and then put in a municipal landfill or burned. I have no problem with that at all.  A landfill should have in-place measures to keep garbage from flying away of course, but it is the intended destination for garbage.

Litter remains, and as so often happens, the many are punished for the sins of the few.  In the case of the residents of Suffolk County, the nickle-a-bag fee to pack up your purchases is now the law.  Bring your own bags, buy some, or do without.  The only silver lining is that the money grubbing scoundrels at the legislature don’t get the money.  If they did, based on their track record they’d misappropriate it as soon as humanly possible.

We’ve had reusables for a couple of years now, and so it’s not that big a change for us.  In terms of shopping, we have already adapted to this obnoxious governmental meddling.

As part of the push to get this law passed and signed, at least some of the problem was exaggerated.  Plastic store bags last for 1000 years in the environment. This is a canard.  As anyone who’s been in the business of picking up litter knows, though many are reluctant to say so: in our environment they don’t last a year. (Stop and Shop bags don’t even last that long; they don’t last to the car.  They tear like tissue.) The ones that end up in the environment disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces through the effects of season, sun, weather events and natural and human activities.  According to scientists, plastics break up into really small pieces and become microparticles that don’t go away.  Unfortunately, small doesn’t mean gone.  Animals mistake bits of plastic for food and they eat it. Sometimes the animals starve because their stomachs are full of undigestible plastic.  Supermarket bags are a big part of the litter problem. This is also untrue.  The vast, vast majority of plastic bags that end up in the environment come from convenience stores.  You know, the bags with the smiley face, or the black bags for that can of beer or liquor bottle.  Supermarket bags and big box store bags are seen across the street from the store as noted above.  They’re escapees.  This is a problem, of course that the solution doesn’t fit.

That said, since I have been forced to make decisions about whether to bag up my groceries, I find that I am using less of the – now store bought -disposable bags. I have chatted about this with the counter people at my local market, we are all in the same boat here in taxationland Long Island and the store employees generally don’t like the law any more than the customers.  They didn’t seem the least put-out about sharing their views on the matter and didn’t make me feel the curmudgeon at all.  People shrug.  There’s nothing anyone can do.  Fatalism is the Long Island way of coping.  Do you want a bag for that, sir?  Yes (or no as needed), and perhaps a chuckle and ‘I left them in the car.  Again.’ Smiles, thank you and have a nice day, as always.

So far, I buy the least number of store bags as humanly possible, as do others.  Will that continue, it’s hard to know.  You don’t want to overload them and especially not the Stop and Shop bags, or you’ll have a disaster on your hands. 

I felt like a bit of a cheapskate at first, chincing on plastic bags for a nickle, but that’ll change when all the usual cost of living and tax increases hit this year and are added to the drip-drip of nickle bag fees. In our household, we’ll stretch some expenses here, and cut some there, find some more work and we’ll be fine. (We’re not fleeing the Island like most of the other aging boomers, because we can afford not to and because our children and grandchildren are here and that’s what matters.) Maybe I won’t buy the new fishfinder for the kayak this year though: nah, things are not that bad. Yet.

I purchased a big roll (360) of the kind of bags that you see in the produce section and will use them to clean up after the cat ($9), and an eight pack of the small bag rolls that they sell in the pet food store to pick up after the dog, probably 80 bags total ($7). I also purchased a supply of 30 plastic wastebasket liners for the bathroom cans too ($2.99 I think). Other uses will have to be evaluated as we go.  It’s another small nut to cover, and again – it is what it is. These bags too, will go to the incinerator or the landfill as it’s not recommended to compost your pet droppings the way that we compost every bit of our kitchen vegetable waste for the past 25 years. (You actually can compost your pet droppings, but it’s not recommended and it’s a digression.)  The truth is, the bag fee will (marginally) reduce our use of plastic bags.  But for this household, it’ll probably reduce the number of bags getting into the environment by about zero, because that’s approximately how many of the ones that we used to get for free ended up in the environment.


Chance Encounter

I’ve neglected this blog, the reasons for that being legion, but the primary reason being that we’ve moved, but I’ve continued the habit of picking up after litterbugs.


It’s ingrained.

Now that we’ve settled in, I’ve selected my own personal ‘adopt a spot’ litter location, across the street from the new home.  People like to park there at night, and there’s the usual selection of empty beer bottles and cans,

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energy drink cans and convenience food packaging,





cigarette butts and packaging,


baggies, candy wrappers and miniature liquor bottles.





Y’know, judging by the litter on our roadsides, we’re a selfish and decadent society.

The spot’s looking cleaner already and pretty soon I’ll have to forage further afield to find filth.  But today, I had gardening on the agenda and that task led to a meeting with a fellow traveler, the second such meeting I’ve had since we relocated.  As follows:

I was driving out to the town compost facility this morning and what do I see?  A lady with a pick stick in one hand, and a repurposed grocery store bag in the other, working her way through some litter alongside the railroad right of way.  I couldn’t help myself.  I pulled over and said hello.  And when I thanked her for what she was doing, she said something like: “Well, we live right here, and I get tired of looking at the mess so it’s not much more effort to pick it up as it is to look at it.”

Yep.  That about sums it up. I told her that I do the same thing, and I mentioned the possibility of having an organized cleanup in the area.  While the lady was polite, I didn’t get the feeling that she was immediately interested.  I said nice to meet you and drove off to continue what I’d been doing.

I’m thinking of starting a little facebook page to network with other residents of the area – to organize a bit, and do some cleanups.  I think I’ll draw a good number of interested people, and in any case a number of good and interesting people.  We could do ‘flash’ cleanups – just descend on a spot and clean it and leave.  There are quite a few retirees around here who might just be willing.

Meanwhile, I’m scouting equipment


and continuing to take pictures of roadside litter.  Perhaps in search of those elusive grocery store plastic bags that people want to ban so much.  Wait, here’s one…er, forget it.  Just another smiley bag.


Not seeing them.  Are you?  Maybe it’s time for another post on that topic.

International Coastal Cleanup

That time again, and the local upland fresh water preserve is in need of a good thorough picking.  The ICC is the same day as our local Community Watch cleanup, so it’s shaping up into a community-wide cleanup effort.  We have a month to hype it, and I hope that we can draw some new volunteers along with the reliable people we always count on.

In an effort to get the message out in new ways, I have repurposed some of the lawn signs that got picked up at prior cleanups.  I whitewashed them and am planning to letter them with a simple message, something like: Community Cleanup Today, 9-11 am.  I’ll place them at strategic spots the day before.  Maybe we can draw some people who aren’t on the facebook group or who haven’t been in the loop for cleanups in the past.

A recent spate of illegal dumping has had me in contact with the town.  I emailed the top elected official and included photos of the trash, asking that the town pick up the dumped material and request that the police conduct some directed overnight patrols.  I got a very positive response, and the dumped stuff was picked up within a few days.   This happened at the same location where we conduct the ICC each year.   There are other cleanups done at that location, which is a magnet for dumpers and needs sustained attention to stay neat.

Some Independent Work: Sunrise Highway Service Road

I had to take the car to the nearby shop for some minor work, and so decided to do a bit of litter cleanup while walking home. The strip of roadway that I picked clean is about two blocks long and adjacent to our State highway, it gets a lot of debris blown up on the grass.  I cleaned it last Fall and it took quite a while: hours, actually, and three trips.  It seemed to me at the time that the State had neglected that spot for a while, it was full of garbage.

Sometimes it takes pressure from citizen activism for the municipalities to actually clean certain area, other times the municipality simply won’t do it – Like the stretch of Commack Road that I’ve adopted.  That tract of woods hadn’t been cleaned in decades. It’s now clean.

I filled a 30 gallon kitchen trash bag in about a half hour of work.  Ironically, I was driving down the service road about two hours later (after picking up the car) when I saw the state workers picking up litter just a quarter mile further along the same stretch of roadway.


Well, I saved them some work.

Organized Cleanup Season: Brook Street

I’ve been off this blog for a couple of weeks but I’ve not been idle.  Since spending some time stuffing envelopes at Keep Islip Clean last month, it’s been one cleanup after another.

In a previous post, I photographed the strip of Brook Street that is the original cleanup spot that was adopted by KIC 26 years ago. Pre-cleanup it was filthy.  I couldn’t resist: I removed about fifteen pounds of litter including enough empties for a bar, and a cordless drill complete with battery. It never hurts.

Last Saturday was the cleanup.  With 37 other volunteers present and the street closed by the auxiliary cops, we cleaned the entire quarter mile stretch of roadway and woods adjacent to the County Preserve. Someone brought hip-waders and cleaned out the stream as well.

The Problem with Saving the Bees

Not a bit about litter, but informative and instructive science gets me every time. ‘Saving’ the bees… .

The Liber Ero Blog: Reports from the front lines of conservation biology

IMG_1215 A native bumble bee (photo Sheila Colla).

By Sheila Colla

I’ve been researching pollinator declines over the past decade. It has been encouraging and inspiring to see my chosen subject matter go from completely off the general public’s radar to one of the most important environmental issues of our time. These days, it would be difficult to go a full week without seeing something alarming about pollinator declines in a newspaper or social media headline.

In general, it is great that the public and policy makers are starting to appreciate the insect pollinators and the ecosystem service they provide. Heck, even Obama himself wants to help! These little creatures feed on nectar and pollen and move pollen grains from flower to flower while foraging. This behaviour allows gene flow to occur among plants, which then leads to the production of seeds and fruit. Given the estimates that over 3/4 of…

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Brook Street Litter

Upland freshwater marsh, a stream, a pond, woods and one macadam road running through it.  Everyone in town knows the Brook Street Preserve.  At first glance, it looks idyllic, beautiful even, and it is.


Freshwater pond in the rain
West branch of the Orowoc Creek, from Brook Street looking north, upstream

You have to slow down and look a little closer before you see the mess.

‘Out the window’ litter, mostly

As with any out-of-the-way wooded area in a busy suburb, the Suffolk County owned Brook Street preserve is a litter magnet.


A neighbor placed this convenient trash can at an entrance to the preserve.

It requires constant attention to keep clean. Brook Street has been the focus of Keep Islip Clean sponsored cleanup efforts for decades. Year in and year out, Spring and Fall, the cleanups continue.  The Middle School ‘KIC’ team is the sponsor. There are lots of volunteers, official and unofficial. I pick at it throughout the year.

The king of discarded emptys




Convenient hip-pocket sized vodka doser


Done with that? Out the window.


Black plastic bags are the mobile drinkers choice


One of many plastic bags tangled in the brambles




Glass shards litter the overpass above the Orowoc Creek


Plastic bottle, bowling ball (?) and some oranges litter the stream bed of the West Orowoc, south of Brook Street. It’ll require a volunteer or two with hip waders to get to this spot. That should be fun.

The cleanup date is April 18th, a Saturday, and I’m planning to join in.  I’m also trying to drum up some more volunteers from the neighborhood to show up.  This is not an easy thing to do, since Saturday mornings are busy times for all of us. But there are always the few reliable volunteers who come out for most of the cleanups, and you often get a neighbor or two who pop in to help.  There are seldom a huge group of volunteers showing up, but in my experience there are always enough.