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10 things to know about the bag ban taking effect today

10 things to know about the bag ban taking effect today

Statewide restrictions on plastic retail carryout bags aim to reduce environmental impact
10 things to know about the bag ban taking effect today
Both resuable and single-use plastic bags are shown at the registers at the Market32 store in Glenville in January.
Photographer: Marc Schultz / Staff Photographer

Welcome to the post-plastic bag era!

Actually, it’s not a post-plastic bag era at all — there will still be billions used and discarded each year in New York state. 

But today is the first day of the state’s ban on thin plastic bags that merchants have long provided to customers to carry their purchases out of the store. An estimated at 23 billion have been handed out each year in New York.

No retailer that collects sales tax can legally provide these plastic carryout bags any longer, though the state won’t enforce the ban for at least a month.

The measure is designed to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing plastic bags (a process intense with chemical and petroleum use) and disposing of them (they often wind up as litter and do not biodegrade).

Here are 10 things to know:

  1. Many retailers will provide paper bags instead of plastic, at least in the short term.
  2. Some retailers will charge a fee for each paper bag they fill with customers’ purchases.
  3. The overriding goal shared by state officials and some retailers is to get shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to the store.
  4. Reusable bags made of natural cloth or synthetic materials cost anywhere from 50 cents to several dollars, and have a predicted lifespan of 100-plus uses, vs. an average usage time of 12 minutes for thin plastic bags.
  5. Grocers can still provide plastic bags for everything from fresh chico fruit to raw chicken thighs to deli-sliced chicken breast to bulk chickpeas. They just can’t put all those little plastic bags in one big plastic bag at the checkout.
  6. Larger retailers are still required to provide recycling bins for customers’ used plastic bags. 
  7. The common advice is to leave a bundle of reusable bags in the car so as not to forget them. Super-compact folding bags that fit in a pocketbook or backpack are a solution for those who don’t own a car.
  8. New York’s ban on plastic carryout bags is one of a growing number of state-level restrictions, and was supported by some retailers and their trade groups.
  9. Merchants who violate the plastic bag ban will get a warning on the first violation and fines of up to $500 for subsequent violations. Amid a court challenge, the state on Friday agreed not to enforce provisions of the ban in March, so a few merchants might hold on to plastic bags a bit longer.
  10. The new ban has plenty of holes, with exemptions for plastic bags used for newspapers, dry-cleaned garments, bulk hardware, medications, restaurant takeout food, and live fish, among other things. Most notably, super-heavyweight plastic shopping bags (at least 10 mils thick, or 20 times thicker than the thin-film bags that grocery stores previously used) are considered reusable, and are not banned. This has drawn criticism from environmental activists.
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