Why you Need to Start Using Reusable Bags for Shopping now!
Tuesday, August 13th, 2019
New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo signed into law a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags on Earth Day this year. The ban takes effect in March, 2020.
So, what does the ban mean for New Yorkers and what are our options for getting our groceries home? It means we could all benefit by making the transition to reusable bags now (myself included!).
Here are some plastic bag facts:
- According to Forbes, New Yorkers uses 23 billion bags every year requiring an estimated 12 million barrels of oil used to make them. 50% of plastic bags end up in landfills and waterways, even with plastic bag recycling collections systems in place. Banning bags saves landfill space, reduces costly issues with recycling collection, and keeps them out of the litter environment.
- Onondaga County, where I live, generates 5.6 million pounds of plastic bags annually, from both residential and commercial sources, per Andrew Radin, Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency Recycling Director.
- Are there any exemptions for plastic bags? Yes, there are situations where it’s ok for retailers to hand out a plastic bag, including: uncooked meat, fish or poultry; bulk items; sliced or prepared foods; a newspaper for delivery; or prescription drugs. There are also exemptions for bags sold in bulk, food storage bags, garment bags, prepackaged bags offered for sale, and bags for carryout orders at restaurants and taverns.
What about paper bags? Here’s what you need to know:
- Paper bags are not banned, however city and counties may elect to charge a 5-cent fee per paper bag. Check with your local governments on the status of this fee as the ban date draws closer.
- Who gets the fee? Local governments get 2 cents and the state’s Environmental Protection Fund receives the other 3 cents.
- Why charge a fee? Charging fees leads to improved buyer habits. For example, when Suffolk County Long Island imposed a 5-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags in January 2018, grocery stores reported an 80% drop in use of bags at check out during the first 6 months of their program. So, a fee on paper bags would also lead to reduced paper waste.
- Isn’t paper an environmentally improved choice for bags? Not when you look at the big picture. According to the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force Final Report, “When researching paper bags, it was found that paper bags require a significant quantity of water to produce and take up more space than single-use plastic bags during shipping. Due to the increased energy required for both the production and transportation of paper bags, they have been found to have a greater carbon footprint than single-use plastic bags. Many municipalities report an increase in paper bag use after plastic bag bans go into effect. This is important to consider due to the amount of water required to produce paper bags.” The full task report can be found here: https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/dplasticbagreport2017.pdf
- “A plastic bag ban that doesn’t also address the use of paper bags is not a sustainable solution,” said Evelyn Ingram, a spokeswoman for Wegmans, in an email to Syracuse.com. “It takes seven tractor trailers to transport the same number of paper bags as plastic bags carried by one tractor trailer.”
So, what’s the bottom line?
Get ready for change if you are accustomed to using plastic bags regularly. The easiest way to adapt is to stock up on reusable bags. Most stores sell them for 99 cents. Make a practice of having a stash of them in your car. That way, you will always have them at the ready.
Yes, you can certainly make the switch to paper bags and call it a day. That said, you will then need to be mindful to recycle them in your bin. Since they may not be as sturdy as reusable bags, you may need more of them to get your groceries home. At the end of the day, it’s best to generate less. We all win when we reduce first, then recycle.