Saturday, April 28, 2018

Opinion: New York State’s Plastic Carrying Bag Ban

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,

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Diane Chase is the author of the Adirondack Family Activities guidebook series, Adirondack Family Time. She writes about ways to foster imaginative play through fun-filled events and activities in the Adirondack region.

From her home in Saranac Lake, Diane also writes a weekly family-oriented newspaper column for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise and keeps her own blog Adirondack Family Time. Her writing and photography has appeared in numerous newspapers, magazines, marketing companies and advertising agencies.

She even finds time to assist her husband with Adirondack Expeditions guiding families and young adults in the High Peaks.

18 Responses

  1. Terry Barber says:

    Completely ban plastic bags in NYS….PLEASE!!
    Good article, Diane!

  2. Boreas says:

    All plastics need to be effectively recycled. Convenience and the persistence of plastic materials will bury us – as it is already burying massive areas of ocean. There need to be multi-national clean-ups of ocean trash after every hurricane season. What do we do with it then? Someone needs to figure that out. Perhaps compress it into artificial reefs or ocean break-walls.

  3. tom prevost says:

    Hopefully Cuomo can get enough support to pass this. It is an eyesore all over the state. The opponents to it are the large groceries and big box stores. BUT, they make no effort to keep the area around their stores clean. Instead here in western NY, the adjacent homeowners are getting fined for mess from blowing discarded bags.

  4. terry says:

    I always use a bag that I bring with me, but I call bullshit on
    you saying you asked people why they chose plastic.
    the common NY response would not of been convenience but F$#@ Off

  5. James porteus says:

    Noticed all the towns having the ban are affluent communities.
    More laws are not the answer, our state is in shambles. Trees used to be trimmed roadways repaired and cleaned. Time for the state to look at the way our taxes are being used and clean up that mess. Albany and local governments are playing shell games.

  6. Maybe if stores were able to give a discount when customers provide their own bags, that might help. I went on a hike on Earth Day armed with a bag to pick up trash, but the trail was still covered by snow, so I stopped at a little parking area on route 458 to see what I could pick up. I was appalled at the amount of discarded beer, soda and juice bottles. Soiled diapers, coffee cups and even household and automotive items – and something that looked like a sink disposal system. Somehow we have to make it easier to recycle and dispose of unneeded items.

    • Boreas says:

      We do have ways to recycle and reuse, but they are insufficient for the amount of trash our culture generates. A disposable culture generates more manufacturing jobs, but fails to acknowledge the downside – disposing of the items. It isn’t the sexy part of the process, but could be. Entrepreneurs, governments, and citizens should all be looking at this problem collectively as an important part of our economy.

      If petroleum-based products and packaging are to be encouraged, there must be a way to EFFECTIVELY recycle and reuse it. Otherwise, our culture needs to change to demand less packaging material and fewer “disposable” consumer items headed for shrinking landfills. We simply need to clean up after ourselves, which is apparently not inherent in human genetics. Humans cannot continue to slap ourselves on our backs for our technological wonders while ignoring country-sized rafts of plastic trash floating in our oceans.

  7. Mary says:

    I understand that we humans are the best at messing up the earth. I am an avid recycler. I have questions though:

    Will people buy more plastic trash bags for their garbage to replace the grocery bags they use for trash now?

    Aside from the ugliness of discarded trash bags and straws, how much mass do they amount to compared to disposable diapers? No one wants to go down that road!

    When will we as a population stop manufacturing all the unnecessary plastic packaging?

    When will more plastic types be accepted for reclcling?

    • Paul says:

      Almost all plastic types and almost all plastic bags are accepted for recycling here where I live?

      Was skiing in Colorado last weekend. Vail resorts (the evil corporate entity) no longer uses any straws (along with many other environmentally responsible practices). Companies will do what their shareholders and customers want. Most of the towns in Summit County do not allow plastic bags and in some, paper bags are 10 cents each. The NYS way is to shove it down peoples throats. Good luck.

    • Boreas says:

      Even recycling isn’t perfect – it still uses lots of energy. And many plastics can not be recycled. The key is to shun any unnecessary packaging, disposable appliances, and stop making junk we know will end up in a landfill or floating on the ocean.

  8. Evelyn Greene says:

    Other reasons for using reusable cloth bags–they don’t hurt your hand when carrying a heavy bag and they don’t break! Just always keep them in a bag behind the driver’s seat so they are easy to find and remember to use.

  9. Paul says:

    Reusable bags are so much more convenient and easier to use. It’s funny that we need a law. My family generates almost no trash for the landfill. Again its easy and more practical to recycle everything and compost what you can recycle.

  10. Kathy says:

    There are littering laws for roads but we all know how well that works..discarded tires ,fast food containers, beer cans etc and mattresses just dumped roadside. It’s not laws or bans that will help but it’s near impossible to control ,find and fine those who just don’t care.

  11. Todd Eastman says:

    … then go after plastic packaging!

    Convenience has a steep price.

  12. Charlie S says:

    “A few other municipalities have instilled a five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags.”

    A total ban would be the best way to go and though Cuomo proposes this it is my understanding the republicans are going to block him from doing so and so you can count on the ugly plastic piling up everywhere in our state because of this. It’s a shame all of the plastic in the waters and over our landscape. There ought to be a law! I’m not a Cuomo fan but this sure would make him look a little better in my book….if he pulls it off.

  13. Charlie S says:

    Boreas says: ” stop making junk we know will end up in a landfill or floating on the ocean.”

    Or sunk in the ocean or clinging to the limbs of trees or shrubbery Boreas. The wind picks them up real easy, featherweight that they are, and carries them off then delivers them wherever a branch grabs hold. A big eyesore and they’re not easy to get out of trees. Once again we have this problem because it’s all about jobs jobs jobs. A mentality! And though we need to work it’s going to be no different fifty years from now as we’ll be needing jobs then too except we’re going to be much more polluted by then because we don’t care enough now.

    Speaking about the ocean. Did you hear about that whale that they found dead over in Spain with 60 somewhat lbs of plastic in its gut. That’s what killed it. Nice world we’re living in hey?

  14. Charlie S says:

    Mary says: “When will we as a population stop manufacturing all the unnecessary plastic packaging? When will more plastic types be accepted for recycling?”

    When it’s not about jobs jobs jobs as much as it is about the only home we know. I suppose we can extend this some and talk about over-population which is part of the problem but generally it’s ignorance and greed and plain old apathy.