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Foss: Get ready for state's plastic bag ban

Foss: Get ready for state's plastic bag ban

Foss: Get ready for state's plastic bag ban
Photographer: Shutterstock

Earlier this month, my husband gifted me with a supply of reusable shopping bags.

It wasn't the most exciting present, but it might have been the most practical. 

New York's plastic bag ban goes into effect on March 1, and I'd rather use reusable bags than the paper sacks that will now become much more commonplace. 

The state's ban on single-use plastic bags has a good intent: reducing the harmful plastic pollution that clogs rivers and streams and despoils the ocean, gets tangled in trees, piles up in landfills and litters the streets. 

It's a worthy goal -- one I support wholeheartedly.

Critics have raised a number of concerns about the state's new law in the weeks leading up to the ban's implementation, but it's a good first step. 

If problems arise -- and I expect some will -- the law can be tweaked. Legislators should be ready to make adjustments as needed. 

One worry, from environmentalists, is that the law has a loophole that will allow stores to provide customers with thicker plastic bags that can be used multiple times. 

"It's not good for the environment if you go from thinner plastic bags to thicker plastic bags," Judith Enck, a former administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who now heads the anti-plastics group Beyond Plastics, told The Associated Press. 

The state has dismissed concerns that the ban on single-use plastic will lead to a surge in the use and production of thicker plastic bags. We'll know soon enough whether this is correct. 

If it isn't, and thicker plastic bags begin to circulate, lawmakers should be prepared to extend the ban to bags more than 10 mils thick. 

Another concern, from the paper bag industry, is that the law will lead to a paper bag shortage. 

One industry official, Phil Rozenski from the paper bag manufacturer Novolex, told the Staten Island Advance that New York "just assumed that if it banned plastic bags and mandated the use of paper, that people would just be able to go and buy the paper bags. Well, you have to buy the bags somewhere." 

That's true, which is why I'm stocking up on reusable bags. 

I'd urge others to do the same, and not just because there might be a paper bag shortage. 

Unfortunately, the research suggests that paper bags also come with a heavy environmental cost.  

A 2019 National Public Radio article looking at the impact on reducing plastic bag waste observed that "A bunch of studies find that paper bags are actually worse for the environment. They require cutting down and processing trees, which involves lots of water, toxic chemicals, fuel and heavy machinery." 

That's troubling -- and it's why New Yorkers should get in the habit of carrying reusable shopping bags with them and forgoing paper as well as plastic. 

Unrealistic? 

I don't think so. 

Yes, it will take a little bit of time to get used to the plastic bag law. 

But I'm fairly confident most people will adapt to it fairly easily. 

For me, the biggest challenge has always been remembering to bring reusable bags to the store. 

I suspect the state's new law will make it easier to remember -- for me, and for millions of other New Yorkers, too. 

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. 

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