New York’s plastic bag ban will go into full effect this Sunday (3/1) and store-owners throughout all five boroughs are preparing themselves by buying paper bags in bulk, and implementing new marketing strategies to encourage customers to bring their own bags. A lot of establishments throughout the state of New York have already begun transitioning out plastic bags from their businesses, however, for others it’s a bit of a scramble.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation last year on Earth Day as a means of reducing litter throughout the state, especially in New York City, but also to combat climate change in general by protecting wildlife from eating said litter, and reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions that are directly linked to plastic bag production, distribution, and disposal.
As previously stated, the ban goes into full effect on March 1st and states that all New Yorkers will either have to bring their own reusable bags when going grocery shopping, or pay a five cent fee per paper bag they need; the fee does not apply to individuals who use SNAP of WIC. Certain bags are exempt from the ban, such as garbage or garment bags, or any kind of bag that’s used to wrap perishable foods.
“It’s self-explanatory. It’s the right thing for the environment, and we really care. Our clientele also appreciate the fact that we care about the environment. Yes, it’s going to be a little bit of transition for many stores — being a shortage of bags or whatever it may be — but we wanted to be proactive on it,” said Carlos Alfara, director of produce for all Union Market stores in NYC.
Union Market has also created their own informational campaign that they’re calling “BYOBag” as a means of informing all NYC residents on the specifics of the new law. Part of their campaign also instructs all sales representatives and cashiers to talk to customers about the new policy, as well as offering a 10 cent discount to every customer who brings their own bag.
For Union Market, however, as a chain making this transition isn’t as financially impactful as it would be for smaller, independently owned businesses who are paying nearly three times the amount for paper bags, hence the fees. Store owners are encouraged to also keep all cardboard boxes they recieve in case customers want to use those for groceries as well. At the end of the day, customers will get used to the change, and the planet will surely thank New Yorkers in the long run.
New York has now become the third state in America to fully ban plastic bags statewide; California and Hawaii being the other two. According to Riverkeeper, a water advocacy nonprofit, New Yorkers use more than 23 billion single-use plastic bags every year, and the average life cycle of each bag is about 15 minutes long, before being improperly disposed of. Riverkeeper has also been outspoken about their discontent with this specific ban, stating that it’s simply not enough, especially when compared to the massive amounts of single-use plastic that New Yorkers go through in general annually.
Plastic containers used for take out throughout the hundreds of thousands of places to eat in New York contributes to some of the most plastic waste for the state. Additionally, critics of the ban claim that while it is a step in the right direction, the amount of fossil fuels required to transport containers and paper bags is just as much as it would be for regular plastic bags.
“They’re [plastic bags] cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash can liners. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint,” wrote John Tierney in The Wall Street Journal.
The Department of Sanitation for New York City will be scattered throughout the five boroughs this Friday handing out reusable bags as preparation for the change. While it may not be the biggest accomplishment in terms of combating climate change, it’s this type of systematic action that we need worldwide if we want a shot at saving our dying planet and all its inhabitants.