Here Comes The Bag Ban

New York State uses approximately 23 billion plastic bags per year./Photo credit Michael Kowalczyk.

Residents of New York State use approximately 23 billion plastic bags each year. On Sunday March 1, 2020, that began to change, as the state’s ban on such bags officially began, despite a month-long enforcement delay that the state agreed to at the last minute in response to a legal challenge. Are New Yorkers ready?  

New York State is implementing the Bag Waste Reduction Law, which bans all use of plastic bags for purchases from retail stores. The law was developed, of course,  to combat pollution of oceans and waterways, neighborhoods, and nature in general. Plastic bags also require an extensive decomposition process, which creates overflowing landfills around the globe.  

New Yorkers’ opinion on the ban seems to be mixed, as evidenced by interviews with several of them as the ban approached. Some said the change is long overdue, while others argued that the environmental damage is already done and will not just go away once the new law is instated.  And some see the new law as an inconvenience. “What about garbage bags, how does that work?” said Ata Ibrahim, motioning to his gloves and around the halal truck where he works on the Upper West Side, “a lot of the stuff we use is plastic.” Ibrahim’s business is one of many required to collect New York State sales tax, all if which are affected by the ban.  “Customers will be mad. How will you give people stuff everyday?” Ibrahim said.

Less than 48 hours before the ban was to go into effect, on February 28, the state agreed to delay enforcement of the ban until April 1, due to a New York Supreme Court challenge from plastic bag distributors and bodega owners.  The extra month was allowed as many businesses said they would have an excess of plastic bags and nothing to bag customer goods. There is a backlog of paper bag orders, according to some merchants. 

Some businesses in low income communities also argue that this ban disproportionately affects them due to the new extra charge for paper bags for customers. Some stores will carry paper bags available for a 5 cent charge, though they are not required to. So, many New Yorkers will have to start using reusable bags, or as the State calls it, #BYOBag, “bring your own bag.”

 A few days before the ban, Manhattan shopper Ricky Arno said she was looking forward to the ban.  She feels terrible using a plastic bag, she said, and usually clips reusable bags inside of her purse. Arno thinks the law is a step in the right direction, but worries about the impact of other plastics that are not banned. “We have to figure out a way to not have all those plastic bottles for water,” Arno said. 

Arno said she worries about a future that constantly demands more goods but with a shrinking capacity to contain what is quickly discarded, and unable to be broken down quickly and sustainably. she said. “We still have paper from the Egyptians.”

For Tyler Wang, a shopper on Broadway and 72nd Street, the delayed enforcement for an extra month does not matter.  “It’s a month, it’s not a big difference,” Wang said he doesn’t mind spending a few extra cents for paper bags, “but I worry about them falling apart, and I’ll miss having garbage bags in the apartment.”

Lorenzo Pierna of the Bronx says he’s saving all the plastic bags he can get and buying reusable bags, but he favors the law.  “I don’t know why they’re pushing it back, they should keep it starting tomorrow,” Pierna said.

“If they’re going to implement it, they might as well implement it, otherwise what’s the point,” said Natalie Bergeron.  Bergeron says she is split 50/50 about the ban and everyone she knows is hoarding bags. “It’s great that it’s happening so there will not be so much plastic, but at the same time a majority of New Yorkers use bags for trash and cat litter. Where will we put it all?” Bergeron asks.

Jonathon Michaeli says he is happy about the ban, and looks towards more solutions to pollution.  “I would want to see a lot more paper used,” said Michaeli, “Even though they’re banning plastic, they have all these other bags that are half made of plastic and then you have all the fruit containers.  I’d love to see paper and boxes used.”