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EDITORIAL: No delays. Just adjust to new plastic bag ban

EDITORIAL: No delays. Just adjust to new plastic bag ban

The we get used to new bag law, the faster we can move forward
EDITORIAL: No delays. Just adjust to new plastic bag ban
Photographer: Shutterstock

When New York’s new ban on single-use plastic shopping bags takes effect less than a month from today, there’s going to be confusion.

People will be upset when they find out they can’t get the bags like they used to be able to. Some people will be upset about being charged five or 10 cents for heavy-duty plastic bags or for paper bags.

Some people will think the same policies, unrelated to the new law, that apply at one store will apply to them all, and they’ll get upset when there’s inconsistency.

Some people will mistakenly assume the law applies to all plastic bags and wonder why fish, produce and newspapers can still be gloved in plastic.

Many people will not have bothered to read the news articles or visit the government websites providing them with exactly everything they need to know about the law.

Many will have heard something about the new law, but claim they had no idea this change was taking effect on March 1. So they’ll take out their frustrations and confusion on beleaguered store clerks and managers. And they’ll probably vent to anyone who’ll listen about how the state didn’t give them enough notice.

Normally, we wouldn’t endorse such chaos in rolling out a new law. Grocery shopping is stressful enough. And the last thing anyone needs to do is get worked up about shopping bags, of all things.

So it’s understandable why some people, including environmentalists like Eric Goldstein of the National Resources Defense Council, think the state should put off enforcing the law for another month or two to give everyone more time to adapt. 

In reality, the best thing that can happen to the long-awaited movement to reduce the plastic that has been littering our landscapes and waterways, choking and poisoning marine life and clogging up our waste treatment facilities is for everyone to be talking about it at once — even if they’re mostly griping about it.

Delaying the implementation of the law won’t eliminate confusion about which bags are usable and which aren’t. People will be confused and upset no matter when the law takes effect.

A delay won’t stop that.

Sure, maybe the state Department of Environmental Conservation and grocers could use more time to promote the law. But the law was passed last March, a full 10 months ago. So the state and stores have already had plenty of time to anticipate problems and prepare shoppers with information. Any last-minute notifications and adjustments they’re going to make, they’re going to make this month.

Yes, delaying the law could give grocers more time to stock up on paper bags and market reusable bags. But another month isn’t going to make that much of a difference.

Any delays in enacting this major change to the way we use plastic bags will push off the next phase of plastic reduction, which should lead us in the direction of reducing the use of the other plastic bags (such as those for produce and meats) and developing more energy-efficient ways to produce waterproof biodegradable bags.

And frankly, the faster we all get used to living without single-use shopping bags, the better off the environment will be. New Yorkers use 23 billion of them a year. This law will have an impact.

We’ll find other, more environmentally sensitive ways to line our garbage pails and carry the cat poop from the litter box to the trash can.

The faster we get in the habit of keeping reusable bags in the trunk of the car and fetching them before we go into the store, the sooner we’re forced to adjust, the less confusion and controversy there will be.

We’ve got 27 days from today to educate ourselves about the new law. To help you understand it, click here for a link to the new law.

Take a few minutes to figure it out. Start getting used to it now.

Maybe if more of us did that, we’d cut down on the chaos we expect when the law takes effect March 1.

But if people are all still griping about it to one another when it happens, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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