Paper and Plastic Bags Might Soon Cost a Dime, And It’s Basically Your Fault

nyc plastic bags brooklyn double bagging key food grocery store
When I worked in a video store, we were instructed not even to offer a bag to people who rented just a single DVD. That was a way for cheapskate Blockbuster to save a few dollars on boxes of plastic totes (and still it wasn’t enough to save the company!), but seeing how many bags we saved and how many people wanted one anyway stuck with me: we use so many more plastic bags than we need! I see it the worst every time I go to the supermarket: all the unthinking, unnecessary double bagging; all the wrapping up of produce like they can’t weigh your three potatoes unless they’re nestled in their own individual wrapper.

So, good for the city councilmembers who plan to introduce legislation tomorrow that would require storeowners to charge a Roosevelt-piece per bag, regardless of whether it’s paper of plastic, the New York Post reports. The article includes a photo of a shopper in Williamsburg carrying 12 bags (above), noting her grocery bill would have been an extra $1.20, but it also neglects to mention that even if she had a reusable bag that she forgot, she doesn’t even need that many plastic bags! Charging for bags would at least get people to think about the number they consume instead of just taking them for granted, like plastic bags grow on trees (even though it looks that way sometimes!).

The bill has 19 cosponsors, seven short of the number of votes it would need to pass but a sharp increase over the eight who signed onto a similar bill last summer, which never even got a hearing. This is that liberal City Council you’ve been hearing so much about, helping to run #deBlasiosNewYork.

One of its ringleaders, Park Slope Councilmember Brad Lander, says city residents use one billion plastic bags a year, which not only waste resources and never biodegrade but also give the city a headache: clogging drains, getting into trees, and “messing up” recycling plants; $10 million a year of our taxes go to shipping them to landfills. (If you guys didn’t insist on double bagging everything, and if you brought your old bags back to stores to be recycled, maybe this wouldn’t be happening!) Banning plastic bags, an idea that’s been tossed around, wouldn’t necessarily solve the ecological problem, because it would simply shift the focus onto paper bags, which are almost equally destructive for the environment, in terms of the resources required to produce and move them. 

So, the council’s idea is to make all bags cost a dime, which in other cities has proven to drastically increase the number of people who bring their own reusable bags to the supermarket. (Nonprofit groups plan to bring free reusable bags into low-income neighborhoods.) Critics in the past have accused such plans a scheme to enrich the city’s coffers, but to show their green-minded sincerity, the council’s bill-supporters have said all the coins will go to the shopkeepers. The mayor and the councilspeaker have said they’re still reviewing the legislation, though it seems in line with their priorities.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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