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Wegmans, campus bookstore begin plastic bag ban

by Alex Hutton - Contributing Writer
Tue, Feb 18th 2020 01:45 pm
A plastic bag ban will be enacted in New York state on Sunday, March 1. Some stores have already begun the ban, including Wegmans and the campus bookstore. Photo Credits: Marios Argitis/ Photo Editor
A plastic bag ban will be enacted in New York state on Sunday, March 1. Some stores have already begun the ban, including Wegmans and the campus bookstore. Photo Credits: Marios Argitis/ Photo Editor
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Starting Sunday, March 1, single-use plastic bags will be banned from distribution in New York state. The waste reduction law is aimed to reduce plastic pollution across the state. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on Earth Day, 2019. New York is one of only three states to outlaw single use plastic bags on a state-wide level. New Yorkers use 23 billion single-use plastic bags every year, and a nationwide study showed that 50% of all single-use bags end up as litter. They affect the community as well as the environment, littering our streets, trees and waterways. 

“You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage,” Cuomo said in a press release. “Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”

The ban applies to anyone required to collect New York State sales tax. Under some circumstances, bags are exempt from the ban, such as pharmacy bags used to carry prescription drugs, bulk produce bags for fruits and vegetables and bags for uncooked meat.

Without plastic, shoppers will have the option of paper bags or reusable shopping bags. Although reusable bags are encouraged, paper will be distributed at many, but not all, shopping locations. Legislatures have left it up to the individual counties to decide whether they will enforce a 5 cent fee on paper bags. Monroe and Orleans counties have decided against the fee but are allowing businesses to decide if they want to charge one.

Only four counties have decided to charge the fee so far: Albany, Tompkins, Sulfolk and Ulster, as well as New York City. The fee is hoped to incentivise shoppers to invest in reusable bags. Environmental groups pushed for the mandate of a fee on paper bags saying without it there would be more littering of paper bags in the environment.

“Banning plastic and charging a fee for paper forces people to be more accountable about their overuse and over consumption,” Riley McPherson, an environmental science major at The College at Brockport, said. “We’ve always asked people to reduce their plastic but actually forcing change is going to be really beneficial. I hope that it makes people acknowledge the problem more or at least think about their contributions.”

By next month, all establishments will be making the switch. Wegmans is one step ahead, enacting the ban on Thursday, Jan. 27, and removing plastic bags from all of its locations in the state. After success in their pilot stores, Wegmans has switched to the more environmentally friendly bagging option.

“We learned a lot from the pilot stores in Corning and Ithaca that will help ensure a smooth transition out of plastic bags in the rest of our New York stores for our customers and employees,” Wegmans Packaging and Sustainability Manager Jason Wadsworth in a press release said.

Wegmans has opted to charge a 5 cent fee on all paper bags. The amount collected will be donated to a local food bank in each region. The goal of the fee is to incentivise shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. 

“On average today, 20% of the bags used across all Wegmans stores are reusable,” Wadsworth said in the press release. “However, at our pilot we’ve flipped that statistic so that only 20% of the bags used are single-use bags.”

Shoppers will have to adjust to bringing a reusable shopping bag when they go to the store. Not all stores will be providing paper alternatives. The college’s bookstore has opted to not offer paper bags, only a reusable option. Plastic bags will be completely removed from the store as of March 1.

“As a company, Barnes and Noble decided not to use paper bags,” Bookstore Manager Sucie Pedraza said. “We will be selling reusable bags near the registers. Paper bags wouldn’t work for us because a lot of books are too heavy and would rip through them.”

Come next month, plastic bags, other than those stipulated above, will not be available. One tip is to leave bags in the car so they are always handy. The initiative is overall a way to reduce waste in New York State. 

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