My family has always spent Earth Day cleaning up a trailhead parking area. We’ve managed to gather plenty of disgusting items throughout the years, but the one thing we’ve never seen is a smaller amount of garbage.
There is always plenty of styrofoam containers, to-go cups, plastic straws, and plastic bags tucked into trees or buried in streams. We find paper, personal mail and crates of items that should be in a recycle bin. Cleaning the trailhead never seems to lessen the amount of plastic, or help people recycle.
In 2009, New York State passed the Plastic Bag and Film Plastic Reduction law. Updated in 2015 to include newspaper bags, dry cleaning bags, and shrink wrap, the law requires retail stores with 10,000 square feet or more of retail space and retail chains of five or more stores, with greater than 5,000 square feet of retail space, to provide recycle collection bins for certain types of single-use plastics.
Whether those plastic bags are recycled or not doesn’t seem to change the use of new bags. Those new or recycled plastic bags still end up in a dump. I’ve waited at a market checkout when I’ve been the only person using reusable bags, in any of the lines. (Yes, I was curious enough to watch and do an informal inventory.) When I asked various customers the reason for using plastic, the answer was always convenience.
In 2017, Governor Cuomo implemented the Plastic Bag Task Force after rejecting a proposed five cent fee on all bags. The task force was to come up with a statewide solution regarding these single-use plastic bags. The results are here. Now he has taken a step forward to propose a state-wide ban on plastic carrying bags.
Cuomo hopes all of New York State will join other states in an effort to lessen the environmental impact of plastic carryout bags. Currently Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Rye, East Hampton, New Castle, Hastings on Hudson, the Village of New Paltz, Southampton, Sag Harbor, and Patchogue already have bans on plastic bags. A few other municipalities have instilled a five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags.
Some groceries do not provide bags of any kind. If you shop at those stores you bring your own. Reusable bags can be free. There are numerous tutorials for upcycling old tee shirts into bags. Canvas bags are also easily washed.
Photo of Earth Day trail clean-up used with the permission of Diane Chase, AdirondackFamilyTime.com.