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Is New York's Ban On Single Use Plastic Bags Sustainable?

ROCHESTER, NY (WXXI) - By this time next year, single-use plastic bags will be officially banned in New York state.

Legislation was passed in the state budget early Monday. Individual counties will have the option of charging 5 cents per paper bag, with 2 cents going to local governments and 3 cents to the state's Environmental Protection Fund.

But Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo already has said she's not planning on adding that fee. She said that while environmental protection is a “worthy priority,” the bag tax "is an insult to every New York family."
Some people who support using renewable bags now have concerns that paper bags will become a problem.

"We don’t want everybody going immediately to paper,” said Sierra Club member Frank Regan, “and we hope people take this ban in the spirit of we’re finally getting to really do something for our environment that’s important."

Regan said he and his wife have been using reusable bags for years. He hopes other people can get into the groove of remembering to bring them when they go shopping.

"It would have been nice if volunteer efforts had worked,” Regan said. “And it’s too bad that we have to go to a ban, but I mean there’s countries that are being buried in trash."

Mike Durant, president and CEO of the New York State Food Industry Alliance, also said he believes this will lead to people using more paper bags.

"If the ultimate goal is that consumers are only utilizing reusable bags, then this wasn’t the law to pass,” Durant said. “This gives them a good political soundbite that we banned plastic bags, but it doesn’t give them the desired results."

Scott Herman, a manager at Hegedorn’s in Webster, said the ban will have the most impact on the customer.

“There is definitely a benefit of not using as much plastic,” Herman said. “If we're just going to curb it by using more paper is it really environmentally that much more friendly?"

Herman said he’s all for moving toward reusable bags, but added that removing plastic bags is just a small part of the industry’s problem.

"You look in the whole industry at what plastic is used for,” he said. “I mean, from bread to laundry detergent and everything else, there’s plastic everywhere. We just regulate a small part of it."

Hometown grocer Wegmans released a statement on the issue:

“Our thinking on this issue has always been the same: Reusable bags are the best way to solve the challenges of single-use checkout bags, and a growing number of our customers are opting to use them. A plastic bag ban that doesn’t also address the use of paper bags is not a sustainable solution. Just one implication and there are others:  It takes seven tractor-trailers to transport the same number of paper bags as plastic bags carried by one tractor-trailer.”