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EDITORIAL: Speed up transition to reusable bags

EDITORIAL: Speed up transition to reusable bags

We're ready to take the next step toward protecting the environment.
EDITORIAL: Speed up transition to reusable bags
Photographer: Shutterstock

We’re getting there, slowly.

Frankly, too slowly.

We’re talking about the transition to reusable shopping bags in order to reduce the impact on the environment of single-use plastic and paper bags.

New Yorkers use 25 billion single-use plastic bags a year, many of which are difficult to recycle and therefore end up either in landfills, waterways or the woods. So it’s imperative we stop using them as much as possible.

A new state law passed earlier this year, which goes into effect in March, bans the kind of single-use plastic bags we use to carry our groceries.

That law is a big step toward phasing out non-reusable bags.

But we felt at the time the law was passed that it fell short in many ways, in that it still allows plastic bags used for restaurant takeout food, bags used to wrap deli or meat products, bags for bulk items, newspaper bags, garment bags and bags sold in bulk, such as trash or recycling bags. That’s a lot of exemptions. 

Still, it’s movement.

Another provision of the state law we objected to allows counties and towns to opt in to a 5-cent fee on paper bags.

We were opposed not because of the fee itself, but because lawmakers made it optional. The statewide fee should have been part of the original law.

While paper bags might decompose faster than plastic bags, they come with their own set of environmental impacts.

For instance, they take up more space in landfills than plastic bags, and they use up a lot of energy, and contribute to air pollution, in their manufacturing and transport. 

Albany County, to its credit, is poised to be the first county in the region to opt in to the 5-cent paper bag fee, having passed a bill earlier this month.

Other local counties should join in, both to reduce the use and disposal of paper bags within their borders and to provide consistency in the fees from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In the meantime, state lawmakers should be working on ways to further reduce our reliance on plastic and paper bags, by ramping up efforts to encourage people to use reusable bags, offering incentives to stores and manufacturers to come up with environmentally friendly packaging, and to more quickly phase out the remaining plastic bags currently exempted under the new state law.

New Yorkers, like many Americans, are largely aware of the impact that our reliance on plastic and paper bags is having on the environment.

We see the trash all around us. We see the images in the press and on social media of bags piling up in landfills, blowing around in the wind, floating in lakes and rivers, and clinging to trees.

We know it’s a problem we can solve by simply changing our habits — habits that are easy and inexpensive to change.

The newest state and county legislation is a nudge.

We’re ready now for a push.


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