On March 1, 2020, New York State’s Bag Waste Reduction Law will go into effect. As of that date, all businesses collecting sales tax will be banned from handing out plastic carryout bags—with some exceptions, like produce bags for bulk purchases of fruits and vegetables and bags given out by pharmacies for prescriptions. This is a major step toward New York making good on its commitment to waste reduction. After all, New York State’s retailers currently hand out a mind-boggling 23 billion plastic carryout bags a year. As we all know, those bags don’t magically disappear. They end up in landfill where they take from ten to one hundred years to decompose. They end up littering streets and highways. Caught in the branches of trees, littering the landscape, and floating in waterways and oceans, they pose a serious hazard to wildlife.
Here’s the thing. This new paradigm calls for behavior modification and creative problem solving that calls on the adaptability of 19.54 million New Yorkers. Will this change prove to be too burdensome? Will New Yorkers pull their kids out of schools, quit their jobs, put their houses or apartments up for sale, and flee to more plastic-tolerant states? Probably not — even though they’d have the choice of resettling in one of the forty-two states that have yet to jump on the “ban” wagon.
Chances are New Yorkers are going to be just fine, just like their adaptable counterparts in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Oregon, and Vermont. The truth is that New York’s food shoppers have been voluntarily making the switch on their own for a few years now. They’ve been showing up in increasing numbers in grocery stores with their own quirky collections of reusable bags. If the grocery store experience proves true for the rest of the retail economy, it’s safe to say that protests by consumers or producers demanding the restoration of our constitutional right to create plastic-bag waste will be few and far between.
Still, there may be challenges ahead when home stockpiles of plastic shopping bags disappear. Here are some not-so-serious ones I can think of.
- What will we use to pick up and dispose of various household menaces, like mouse carcasses, cockroaches, and stink bugs?
- How will we keep paint brushes from drying out?
- How will dog walkers tie their poop bags to fences?
- How will we keep fresh bread from tasting like onions stored in the refrigerator?
- How will we prevent clothing from getting soiled by sneakers in our gym bags or suitcases?
- How will we carry home our Chinese take-out?
- How will we clean out our cars?
- How can we be certain we’re in New York City if overflowing waste receptacles disappear?
The solution to some of these conundrums might be to use a paper bag. Under the new law, paper bags will still be available at retailers for a fee if a city or county decides to adopt a state-authorized, five-cent paper bag reduction fee. If, however, paper bags aren’t your thing, don’t worry, New Yorkers. We’ll adapt.