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Source: Rye Patch

Opinion: County Campaign Targets Plastic Bag Use

BY JACLYN BRUNTFIELD

Posted: April 21, 2011
Originally Published: April 10, 2011

Westchester County has launched a "BYOB" campaign that's encouraging residents not to bring your own beer, but to bring your own bags.

For environmentally-conscious people, this may be something you already do, but the county's campaign seems to be geared toward people who aren't disposing of plastic bags as they should.

"This campaign is a countywide public educational effort that will focus on changing the behavior of individuals, as well as businesses, towards protecting our environment, particularly our waterways and marine life that we have invested so much to restore," according to a press release from the Westchester County Board of Legislators and Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE), a non-profit that's joined in the effort.

But after last year's bacteria scare regarding reusable bags that are used to carry meat and aren't frequently washed, people may have a reason to be hesitant to make the switch.

In fact, I remember being in the grocery store with reusable bags in tote after that news broke, and a woman in front of me in line said, "Oh, I don't use those bags because they carry bacteria."

State Senator Suzi Oppenheimer introduced a bill in February that would require a tax on plastic bags. She's proposed that the first $75 million collected by the state would go to the Environmental Protection Fund, with subsequent proceeds going into the state's General Fund.

Similar efforts have been successful in reducing plastic bag use in places like Washington D.C., so between the county's campaign and this proposed tax, perhaps people will think twice about always using plastic bags. But those efforts may not change the behavior of people who choose to throw their plastic bags to the wind.

“Our convenience-driven consumer culture has become reliant on single-use bags, which have become an unsightly staple in our local environment. These throw-away bags that have become the norm have an average usage of just 12 minutes. Plastic bags kill wildlife, dangle from trees and fences, and pollute our local beaches, roadways and open spaces," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of CCE.

One would like to think that people would be more compelled to protect the environment if they knew the importance of their actions, and the BYOB campaign notes that plastic bags can be recycled in the receptacles required by law in the entrances of supermarkets and other big stores.

While the county doesn't pick up plastic bags in curbside recycling, they do accept them (along with other types of plastic bags used for bread, newspapers, etc.) at the Household Recycling Days. These events are held throughout the county. The schedule can be found here.

While its not a sin to use plastic grocery bags to line your trash can or protect items you're carrying on a rainy day, Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins says that an estimated 12 million barrels of oil are required to make the 100 billion plastic bags used in the U.S. each year.

“The energy needed to manufacture and transport disposable bags eats up more resources and creates global warming emissions,” he said.

Notably, other countries have completely banned the use of plastic bags, including Germany, Australia and China.