If it’s starting to be time for New York to get back to business, then we also need to get back to protecting the environment.
Before the coronavirus hit, New York had two major efforts to keep litter out of the environment. One was the bottle bill. The other was the newly enacted ban on plastic single-use shopping bags.
Because of fears over the spread of the virus through close social contact and contact with plastics that might be contaminated with the virus, both programs were suspended temporarily. But if we care about the environment, we need to resume these two environment-saving initiatives.
Let’s start with the bottles.
Since the bottle return bill was enacted in 1982, it has helped to recycle 5.1 billion plastic, glass and aluminum beverage containers and keep 246,000 tons of recyclable containers out of the environment through 2016.
But since the beginning of the covid outbreak, redemption centers at grocery stores, big-box stores and other places have suspended collection of the bottles, even though New Yorkers have kept paying the 5-cent deposit.
But effective Wednesday (June 3), the state ordered those centers to again accept redeemable bottles and cans.
If you’ve been storing your bottles, go ahead and return them now. If you’ve been donating them to a good cause, go ahead and keep doing that. Those organizations can now redeem the containers and collect the money from your donations. If you’ve been throwing your bottles on the side of the road because you’ve had no place to bring them, knock it off and turn your bottles in for the money.
Because of staff restrictions, stores might initially limit the number of items people can return at once, and you’ll likely be required to practice social distancing. But that’s a small price to pay for protecting the environment.
The other environmental legislation that was suspended to due covid, right as it was going into effect, was the new ban on single-use plastic bags.
New Yorkers use 23 billion of these bags a year (about 1,500 bags each), and only for an average of about 12 minutes.
But because they’re really not recyclable, the bags often wind up in landfills, waterways and floating around the woods. And they break down into toxic micro-plastics that can make their way into the food chain, harming animals.
The ban was a long-overdue idea to protect the environment, forcing people instead to shop with reusable bags or pay for heavy-duty plastic bags and paper bags.
There are no studies showing whether or not recyclable bags spread the coronavirus, though the virus does survive on some solid surfaces for up to a few days.
As a precaution to protect employees, some stores will allow reusable bags, but only if you pack them yourself. Clerks now routinely clean their work stations, and shoppers can help stop the spread by spraying the bags with disinfectant after each use.
Just because we need to protect ourselves from covid doesn’t mean we can’t protect our environment at the same time.
Restoring the bottle bill and the plastic bag ban will go a long way toward that end.