It’s time to dig out those reusable tote bags because New York state’s delayed ban on most single-use plastic bags finally went into effect this past week.
Although the ban officially started March 1, it was not enforced due to ongoing litigation. With those matters now settled, the Department of Environmental Conservation announced it would begin enforcing the law. Those impacted by the ban include supermarkets, bodegas, convenience stores, big box stores and many other retailers. Some bags are exempt under the law, such as a bag used by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs and produce bags for bulk items such as fruits and vegetables.
The news is hardly jolting for communities in northern Westchester, where efforts to reduce the reliance on single-use plastics were already underway. Bedford, for example, imposed a single-use plastic bag fee in April of last year. The local resolution requires patrons of large stores to pay a minimum 10-cent fee for every single-use plastic or paper bag they request at the point of sale. Retailers that choose to sell reusable bags must charge a minimum of 25 cents for them. That law affects ShopRite, CVS and Kohl’s in
Bedford Hills, as well as the DeCicco Family Markets in Katonah and Key Food in Bedford Village.
The law implemented by the state will extend the impact to even more businesses in the Bedford community, but Councilwoman Ellen Calves isn’t concerned.
“I think we’re well prepared for this,” Ms. Calves said in a phone interview this week.
As a member of the town’s Reusable Bag Task Force, she “worked hard on educating the public on the importance of reusable bags.”
“Before COVID we had a 90% use of reusable bags and we had tremendous cooperation from our three grocery stores,” she said.
However, Ms. Calves said it has been “frustrating and sad” to see a backslide in their use since March, due to unfounded fears of contamination. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the primary and most important mode of transmission for COVID-19 is through close contact from person-to-person.” Obtaining the virus due to surface contamination is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.
Going forward, Ms. Calves plans to continue advocating for reusable bags in her role as program director for the Bedford 2030 initiative. She would also like to see Westchester County implement a bag fee of its own, specifically for paper carryout bags.
“It would discourage people from just taking free paper bags when plastic is not available. That’s the pattern we see in a lot of stores where paper is still given.” She said the practice “just doesn’t change the behavior.”
This is partially the reason why the neighboring Town of Lewisboro went a step further with its own resolution. It doesn’t just limit the use of plastic bags but bans it entirely. The resolution, which went into effect January 2019, permits retailers to only provide reusable bags and recyclable paper bags as checkout bags to customers. Retailers shall charge customers a fee of not less than 15 cents for each paper bag. The goal is to get shoppers to bring their own reusable bags and curb their dependence on plastic.
Pound Ridge passed a similar resolution, effective September 2019, that also bans single-use plastic bags entirely. The town’s Conservation Board evaluated the laws of neighboring communities like Lewisboro and Bedford to draft a suitable model of its own. In addition to the prohibition of plastic bags, the law in Pound Ridge requires merchants to charge a minimum of 15 cents for recyclable paper bags in grocery stores and other retail shops. The fee is meant to both dissuade shoppers from simply switching to paper bags and protect merchants from the higher cost of providing those bags. Even so, the additional cost of providing more paper bags is still an adjustment, said Billy Fortin, local businessman and owner of The Market at Pound Ridge Square.
“While plastic bags are about 3 cents to produce, paper bags are 16 cents each,” Mr. Fortin explained. “It’s a big cost difference, but we’re going to act in accordance with the law.”
To reduce the use of paper bags, The Market has started selling its own reusable cloth bags for $1.50. Mr. Fortin is hoping customers take advantage of the offer— for the business’s sake and that of the environment, too.
For more information, visit dec.ny.gov/chemical/50034.