Brooklyn Boro

The ban on plastic bags is coming. Does it go far enough?

July 17, 2019 Scott Enman
Paper bags pose their own set of environmental burdens. AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File
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When New York became the third state in the country to ban plastic bags, many applauded the decision, but some believe that even stricter laws need to be implemented to further limit their use and to prevent residents from becoming equally reliant on paper bags — which come with their own set of environmental burdens.

The plastic bag ban goes into effect in March 2020, but the law only applies to a handful of establishments like grocery and big-box stores. Restaurants, pharmacies and dry cleaners, for example, will still be able to use them, causing some activists to view the ban as only a Band-Aid solution.

Jeremy Cherson, legislative advocacy manager of water nonprofit Riverkeeper, said that while the ban is a good first step, it’s not enough. He said the restaurant industry in New York City is massive and that delivery and food ordering services like Grub Hub and Uber Eats use copious amounts of bags.

New Yorkers go through roughly 23 billion single-use plastic bags per year, according to The New York State Association of Counties, and the average life cycle of a plastic bag is a mere 15 minutes.

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Cherson said the ultimate goal is to have a 100 percent ban on all single-use plastics, including bags, cutlery and cups, and to nudge consumers into more environmentally sustainable practices like bringing their own reusable containers.

Come March 1, 2020, retailers across the state will be able to offer customers paper bags, but according to Cherson, they pose an equal if not worse threat to the environment.

“By banning plastic bags, we don’t want to create another problem,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle. “We’re trying to address climate change and water scarcity, but we’re shifting to a product that is energy intensive in both its production and transportation and also water intensive in terms of growing the trees and then processing them into paper.”

He said that because paper bags are heavier than plastic ones, they require more fossil fuels for transport, and they also take up more space in landfills, adding to an ongoing recycling crisis.

Cities and counties have the option of charging a five-cent tax for single-use paper bags to further motivate shoppers to bring reusable bags. Three cents from that fee will go to the Environmental Protection Fund, while the other two cents will go to the locality to pay for distribution of reusable bags. New York City has already opted into implementing that charge.

Cherson said that while it may take some getting used to, people will eventually become acclimated to bringing their own reusable bags to stores.

“I don’t foresee a situation where people can’t adjust,” he said. “People have adjusted in Europe where laws like this have been in place for years, and life goes on. There are bigger and more pressing day-to-day issues for people to worry about.”

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  1. Manicman49

    I shop at Aldi’s a lot and I also shop at Costco. Both stores do not pack the merchandise in either paper or plastic bags. ( Aldi will sell you bags if you didn’t bring your own). I’ve gotten used to leaving my house with two canvas tote bags. Not difficult a transition at all.