Plastic Bag Ban – Policy Suggestions

Plastic Bag Ban – Policy Suggestions

As a result of New York State’s recent plastic bag ban, I was forced to purchase a giant, thick-walled, multi-use plastic bag. I had not thought I’d go shopping, but then I was out and wanted to pick up a couple things and thought I would. I hadn’t realized stores were no longer able to sell you plastic bags, but I would’ve still gone if I’d known that. I would’ve figured I’d buy a paper bag. Anyway, at the checkout, after they’d rung up my groceries, I was told that they’d run out of paper bags and all they had were these big shiny box-like, solid-walled plastic totes. My options were to abandon my groceries or buy them and the big bag. I chose the latter. I walked home overwhelmed by the irony. This took place in Crown Heights. A couple days later I noticed a sign in a fashionable little grocery/deli in Cobble Hill, apologizing for having run out of paper bags in February. Some months prior, I’d brought two instead of three bags to the Target in the Atlantic Terminal Mall (is that Downtown Brooklyn?) and so had to buy the only available bag made of a strange papery kind of plastic, gray and white with the red “Target” song and dance in the center. The handles fell off after two or three uses.

It is counterproductive to force people to purchase any reusable totes every time they don’t bring enough bags to their shopping trip. Even canvas totes have to be reused like 131 times to reduce the climate impact of plastic bags. But forcing people to buy huge reusable plastic bags in an effort to reduce the use of plastic bags seems just straight-up insane.

In retrospect, this is how I would’ve done the NYS bag ban:
Year 1:
A. All stores required to post signs prominently on entrance doors and at checkout. The signs explain the current phase of the law and (smaller, at the bottom) what will come next. (This will always be the case)
B. All stores must offer paper, plastic, and reusable canvas totes (no synthetic material) for sale at the checkout. Paper is a nickel. Plastic is a dime. Reusable tote prices are up to the store. The paper and plastic charges will be paid by the store to the state.
C. At the end of the year, stores will not be permitted to offer totes made of plastic or any other synthetic material.
Year 2:
A. Paper still a nickel. Plastic now a quarter. Canvas but no other kind of tote are also available for sale at the checkout counter.
Year 3:
A. Only paper and canvas totes are available. Paper costs a dime? Or leave it at a nickel?

With this policy we’re trying to both eliminate the use of plastics for shopping and to reduce the chance of a paper bag shortage (that’s the point of the year when paper bags are so much cheaper than plastic — to give the markets a sense for how many paper bags will be needed once we completely eliminate plastic bags).


Author: Think Tank SAWB
Editors: Bartleby & Amble
Copyright: AM Watson

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