Editorial: Environmental common sense

August 21, 2013 Editorial Staff
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The proposal to require groceries and other retail stores to charge consumers at least 10 cents for each plastic and paper bag used aims to reduce pollution while also saving the city millions of dollars now spent on disposing properly of all the plastic bags currently in the city’s waste stream.

Those are laudable goals. Money saved by the city on disposing of plastic bag trash can be utilized to increase services or even given back to taxpayers, and we all are better off when our streets, parks and waterways are freer of litter.

According to the Citizens Committee for New York City, the city spends approximately $10 million each year to dispose of plastic bags – more than 100,000 tons a year — by sending them to out-of-state landfills.

This is a burden on the environment that cannot be sustained.

Thus, for years, environmentalists have tried to encourage shoppers to take reusable cloth bags with them to the store, and some have.

But, the reality is that most shoppers do not bring their own bags, and often request a double bag because the plastic bags provided are so shoddy that they cannot hold much without tearing.

If they have to pay for each bag they use, New York City shoppers may finally make the transition to cloth bags as have their counterparts in other cities in the U.S., including Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Jose.

The City Council legislation strives to make that easier by outlining an extensive informational campaign as well as by requiring the city to distribute free cloth bags on a broad basis to residents, focusing on people in low-income areas and exempting purchases made with WIC and SNAP as well as food pantries from the charge. Take-out food from restaurants is also exempted.

We would hope that city agencies would not use the bill, should it be enacted, as a revenue-generator. Making the effort to be greener is not easy and we would hope that the transition would be a gentle one so that residents and businesses have a chance to adapt to a change that can make the city a better place to live and to do business.

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