By Lisa Kava
If you don’t own reusable shopping bags, now is the time to invest in some. You may also want to stockpile your favorite take-out plastic bags.
Starting March 1, stores in New York State will be banned from giving single-use plastic bags to customers at checkout as the New York State Bag Waste Reduction Law goes into effect.
Shoppers will need to either bring their own reusable bags or expect to pay 5 cents or more for each paper bag they receive at checkout. The ban includes grocery stores, food establishments, and other New York businesses.
The purpose of the law is to protect the environment and wildlife, and to cut down on waste. “New Yorkers use an estimated 23 billion plastic bags annually — each for about 12 minutes — and approximately 85% of this staggering total ends up in our landfills, recycling machines, waterways, and streets,” a spokesperson from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wrote to WSR.
Certain bags are exempt from the law, including bags used by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs, produce bags for bulk items such as fruits and vegetables, and dry cleaner garment bags. For a complete list of exemptions, click here.
Stores will continue to sell packages of plastic bags, such as garbage bags, ziploc bags, baggies and bags for cleaning up after dogs, according to the DEC spokesperson.
The 5-cent fee on paper bags at checkout will go to the NYS Department of Tax and Finance, he explained. He added that NYC is one of three regions in the state adopting the “paper bag carry out reduction fee” (the 5-cent charge.) Individual stores may choose to charge more than 5 cents to make a profit. DEC strongly encourages all New Yorkers to #BYOBagNY — Bring Your Own Bag.
The new law won’t affect Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, as both were ahead of the game. Trader Joe’s stopped giving plastic bags to customers on checkout in 2019, Whole Foods stopped in 2008.
How are other establishments on the Upper West Side preparing? WSR spoke to merchants and shoppers.
“We have been working with our bag supplier on developing reusable shopping bags that will be reasonably priced,” said Scott Goldshine, General Manager of Zabar’s & Co., Inc. “Hopefully that will encourage customers to carry the bags with them to use frequently, which will cut down the use of all other bags as well. It will be very interesting to see how the law will be enforced and I’m sure it will take a while to get used to.”
At Fairway’s 74th and Broadway location, a manager told us the store has always sold reusable bags. He expects those sales will increase and believes most New Yorkers will know to bring their own bags starting March 1. Employees at the Broadway store are “waiting for further instructions from Fairway’s corporate office,” the manager said.
Kenny Wolk, owner of Park West Pharmacy on Columbus Avenue at 82nd Street, applauds the law’s objective but recognizes people will need to adjust. “Today it was raining,” he said in an interview. “A customer came in and bought a handful of things. I gave him a large plastic bag. He was so grateful saying that the rain would have ruined a paper bag.”
“This new law might be more of an adjustment for men,” Wolk added. “Women often come into the store carrying reusable bags. Last week a woman pulled a beautiful reusable bag out of her purse. But many men do not carry a purse so might not be in the habit of carrying reusable bags.”
We asked shopper and neighborhood resident Steve Martin if he agrees. “Normally, I know if I am going shopping, so taking a bag with me would not be a big deal. But I agree that generally it could be a little more inconvenient for men.”
How do other Upper West Siders feel about the upcoming change?
Some are enthusiastic and have already made lifestyle changes. “I love the efforts being made by retailers and consumers to use sustainable and recyclable products. This is a big win for environmental protection,” said Christine Simmons. “I carry a bag to and from work daily and store reusable bags for my groceries so I’m never caught without or have to resort to using plastic bags.”
Others are cynical. “I like this new law but think that unfortunately we will find other ways to carry our groceries that will continue adding to our landfill. Some may use heavier plastic bags which will inevitably end up in landfill and will take even longer to break down,” said Tessie Nedelman.
And others who support the law wonder about potential disadvantages. “I am concerned about excessive single-use plastic, so more than happy to carry reusable bags for shopping. I will probably keep a few of those thin nylon bags in my purse,” said Katherine Weber. “However, I have always been an obsessive saver of plastic shopping bags and reuse them for dog poop bags and cat litter waste. So in my case (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) it does feel a bit ironic that now I might have to purchase new plastic baggies for this purpose.”
Like it or not, a big change for all is just around the corner. Hopefully, in time, we will improve the environment as a result. And, eventually, “Bring Your Own Bag” may be just another part of our daily existence.
For more details on the Bag Waste Reduction Law, check out the state’s website here.
The New York City Department of Sanitation is giving out free reusable bags. For information click here.