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Concerns raised over effectiveness of upcoming NY plastic bag ban

Asa Stackel
Updated: February 13, 2020 06:12 PM
Created: February 13, 2020 11:06 AM

Ready or not, New York's plastic bag ban goes into effect March 1, and the way you do things is going to have to change.

Price Chopper/Market 32 is wondering whether shoppers will even know about it.

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"New York State really provided very little in the way of consumer education," said Mona Golub, Price Chopper/Market 32 Vice President of Public Relations and Consumer Services.

Golub says 18 percent of their customers are using reusable bags right now, and fewer than one percent use paper. Eighty-one percent are going to have to make a change.

Here's where the bag ban gets a little complicated:

Under the law, counties or cities can opt in to a paper bag fee. Stores would have to charge five cents per bag. Three cents would go to the state, two cents to the county or city, and none to the store.

Golub questions that approach. Instead of raising prices by a penny here and a penny there, to pay for the more expensive paper bags, the company has decided to charge five cents per paper bag in all its stores. The idea is to discourage customers from using paper bags.

"If you don't place a deterrent on paper bags, they will replace plastic bags - and that entirely defeats the sustainable intent of the law," said Golub.

The state's Plastic Bag Task Force found that paper bags actually have a greater carbon footprint than plastic bags. Paper takes more water to produce, and takes up more space during shipping, therefore more fuel to ship.

Golub points to what Suffolk County did.

In 2018, the county did not ban plastic bags, lawmakers put a five cent fee on both plastic and paper.

It worked. After one year, people used 82 percent fewer plastic bags. It worked for paper bags as well. People used 80 percent fewer.

It translated to less pollution. A study by the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, Inc. reported a 41 percent decrease in the amount of bags littering Suffolk County's shorelines. 

Here's the new law:

Come March 1, stores will no longer be allowed to distribute plastic carryout bags. That is your average grocery store bag.

This does not apply to trash bags, vegetable, fruit, and meats bags, bags containing food sliced or prepared to order, pharmacy bags, and some other bags like the ones that hold your newspaper. 

Find the full list and the full text of the law, here.

There is another bag, that might not be banned, that is getting criticism

Judith Enck, a former EPA regional administrator, says when Ulster County banned thin plastic bags, companies just started making them thicker. She's worried the same thing will happen statewide. 

The law outlaws single use plastic bags, but DEC created a proposed regulation allowing for bags over 10 mils thick. 

One mil is one-thousandth of an inch. Not a millimeter. 

Your average grocery store bag is about 0.5 mil. Enck showed NewsChannel 13 a CVS bag that is four mils thick. That was the limit in Ulster County. Your average credit card is 30 mils thick.

DEC says nobody is making 10 mil bags.

"It actually doesn't exist right now. Most of the bags we're talking about are these single-use, film plastic," said Basil Seggos, DEC Commissioner.

Enck says they aren't making them, yet. 

"You're now incentivizing plastic bag manufacturers to make the thicker plastic bags," said Enck.

NewsChannel 13 asked Commissioner Seggos directly. He does not think businesses will start handing out 10 mil or thicker bags. He says it is too expensive.

"No, I don't think so. This is a cost issue. Ten mil bag is expensive to produce," said Seggos.

NewsChannel 13 pushed the DEC until they finally showed us a sheet of 10 mil plastic. So why did the DEC choose the 10 mil limit? Seggos say it is an industry standard. He says anything below 10 mil is film plastic.

"We wanted to put a threshold in there, because reusable bags have, most of them, have some kind of plastic content. So if you said no plastic, that would wipe out a significant portion of bags that are reusable and can last a decade."

There's no doubt we use a lot of plastic bags. 

In New York, the state Department of Environmental Conservation estimates we use 23 billion plastic bags every year. The National Resources Defense Council estimates the average American family uses 1,500 single-use plastic bags a year. The DEC says each bag, on average, is only used for 12 minutes.

So what does the future hold?

Thicker plastic bags? A paper bag shortage? An increase in what you pay at checkout?

The only thing certain about what the future holds, is that what holds your groceries, is going to change. 

For any businesses who have questions about the five cent tax/fee on paper bags, the Tax Department has a section on their website to answer questions: https://www.tax.ny.gov/bus/st/paper-carryout-bag-fee.htm

You can ask the DEC about general bag ban questions –

Info for manufacturers and retailers: http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/117781.html

Email address: plasticbags@dec.ny.gov

DEC Phone: (518) 402-8706

Questions specific to fees on paper should be directed to the locality and or the State Department of Taxation and Finance.


Copyright 2020 - WNYT-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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