Empowering Communities, Advocating Solutions


Source: Finger Lakes Times

OUR OPINION: Plastic bags the 'environmental scourge'

Posted: August 6, 2018
Originally Published: August 3, 2018

Each year, New Yorkers use about 23 billion plastic carryout bags for their groceries or retail shopping items. There is no argument that the flimsy, seemingly innocuous bags have become a way of life. Some would argue, however, that they are far from innocuous.

“Plastic pollution has become a serious threat to our lakes, rivers and marine environment, as well as public health,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Esposito and other environmental activists were thrilled this year when Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a bill that would ban such bags. They were then equally disappointed when the Assembly failed to act on the measure after it was passed by the Senate.

Currently, 10 municipalities in the state have banned plastic bags.

The Westchester County community of New Castle has a reusable bag local law that bans plastic at all stores and requires stores to charge 10 cents for each recycled paper bag used. Some bags, such as those for meat and produce — and dry cleaning — are exempted. Suffolk County has a similar law, charging a minimum fee of 5 cents on carryout bags.

Two years ago, California imposed the first statewide ban on plastic bags. New York would have been the second, although Hawaii has a de facto statewide ban because its most populous counties prohibit providing non-biodegradable bags at checkout.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 80 percent of plastic pollution in the ocean originates on land, including plastic bags. Activists have called them an “environmental scourge.”

Closer to home, a severe windstorm earlier this year caused netting to rip at the Ontario County Landfill. That allowed trash to blow offsite, including numerous plastic bags that ended up in nearby trees and yards.

The issue is on the radar of the New York State Association of Counties. Representatives from that organization have talked to the brass of large grocery chains, such as Wegmans and Price Chopper, to promote recycling and reusable bags.

“It’s unfortunate that it isn’t moving at the state level because it really is an issue of statewide concern,” said Stephen Acquario, the association’s director. “We’re going to educate on this matter regardless of the state’s inaction.”

In the meantime, people can help the cause by going to reusable bags instead of plastic. They cost about a $1 and are prominently displayed at Wegmans and other shopping locations.

“Giving up plastic bags and using reusable bags is one easy, reasonable step each member of the public can take to help combat the plastic pollution epidemic,” Esposito said. “It is time for everyone to get on the plastic bag ‘ban wagon.’ ”