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Kennedy: Get those tote bags out to go shopping

Kennedy: Get those tote bags out to go shopping

Kennedy: Get those tote bags out to go shopping
Photographer: Shutterstock

New York’s coming plastic-bag ban sent me panicked to a catch-all closet to see whether I had any reusable totes that hadn’t been carting groceries home since supermarkets began encouraging their use a decade ago.

I had a few on hand (whew!), picked up over the years from trade shows, journalism conferences and other events, including one handed out to parents at a daughter’s college orientation with the droll message “I swapped my kid for this bag.”

Why the anxiety? Well, on Sunday, no stores charging sales tax at registers in New York (with a few exceptions) can pack purchases into the single-use plastic bags we love to hate.

That means the socks you buy at the department store, the light bulbs at the hardware store, the picture frames at the crafts store — like the bread and cereal at the supermarket — all need another means of transport home.

Since I didn’t want any new sweater traveling in the same bag that regularly carried milk or eggs, I ransacked the upstairs closet.
But I needn’t have worried: Retailers are ready to swap out their plastic bags for paper, as they had shifted from paper to plastic in the 1970s after bag producers convinced them that plastic was a cheaper, more durable option.

“Effective March 1, we will be fully converted to paper bags,” Jacob Stein, senior vice president for communications, real estate and maintenance for Boscov’s told me by email when I inquired about the department store’s plans.

He said the chain, with stores locally in Colonie and Clifton Park, had no concerns over bag shortages, nor with the current limbo of Albany County’s plans to charge consumers a nickel for every paper bag they use at checkout, in an effort to encourage greater use of reusable totes.

“As for any logistical challenges imposed by this, that’s the norm for us as we operate in a lot of states and counties already, many of which have requirements that differ from one another,” Stein said. Boscov’s has 50 stores in eight states.

But I wonder if we consumers have outgrown paper bags, as grocery shopping taught us that we can remember to bring our reusable totes to the store and to sponge off or launder bags brought home with the occasional broken egg or milk carton leak.

After all, paper bags are known to have a greater carbon footprint than plastic bags, taking into account the energy required for both production and transportation, says a 2018 analysis from the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force, a group that weighed options for consideration before legislation was developed that resulted in the March 1 plastic-bag ban.

That might be just enough to send me back to the random totes in my closet, to repurpose them for non-supermarket shopping.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

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