York Professor Reacts to NY Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags

Photo Credit: Newtown Grafitti via Flickr

By Rachel Dalloo

Retailers in New York will no longer be able to provide single-use plastic bags starting March 1, 2020. The state became the second in the country, following California, to pass a statewide ban on plastic bags in stores.

The ban, which was proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in April 2018, calls for retailers in NY to replace their plastic shopping bags with alternatives, like paper bags, which they charge customers a 5-cent fee per bag, if requested. Customers may also bring in their shopping bags as another alternative.

The law was part of the state’s $175 billion budget for 2020 that was passed in April.

“As an environmentalist, I thought this was a good thing,” said Dawn Roberts-Semple, an assistant professor of Earth and Physical Sciences at York College. “Because plastic is not biodegradable, there has been so many studies that show how plastic can be harmful to the environment. As it breaks down, and gets in the land and ocean, there are organisms that it impacts.”

Plastic is made from petroleum and does not break down organically. This had led to many bags polluting the sidewalks, waterways, and landfills, mainly harming wildlife. Alternatives, made from things like paper and cornstarch, are recyclable and compostable in facilities that generate enough heat to break them down.

California became the first state to ban single-use plastic bags in the country in 2016. In the state, businesses can offer paper bags and thicker plastic bags for about 10 cents for each of those items.

If cities and counties opt for the 5-cent fee on paper bags in New York, 40 percent of the revenue would support local programs to buy reusable bags for low- and fixed-income consumers, and 60 percent of the revenue would support utilizing the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

“I think there are some people who find this being an imposition, where they can’t afford it, like low-income people,” Roberts-Semple said. “I do think some people are willing to pay, and some are able to afford it.”

There will be exemptions to the ban, including food carryout bags, dry cleaning, garbage bags and bags for fruits, vegetables and wrapped deli meats at the grocery store.

“I think for the residents themselves, it should be a good thing though it might not be convenient,” Roberts-Semple said. “I think there will be a level of discomfort first for consumers. So, we’ll have to get used to finding alternatives.”

“I think the impacts will be positive in the long run because there will be less litter and there’s a good cause that goes with it for us,” she added. “ I guess for the store owners and entrepreneurs, I’m not sure that will be a plus for them but I know manufacturers of plastic bags  will not be happy.”

Following the state-wide ban, New York City has taken the latest step in its battle against plastic by banning single-use plastic utensils like forks, spoons and cups in city agencies. On May 1 Maine became the first state to ban styrofoam food containers beginning in 2021.

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