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Plurality: No ban, tax on plastic bags

The Westchester village of Hastings-on-Hudson recently became possibly the first New York municipality to ban both single-use plastic bags and foam food containers. Fully effective Feb. 1, the bans target these bags and containers because they do not biodegrade and are not easily recycled.

Nearly half of respondents support neither a ban nor a tax for single-use plastic bags, while 49 percent of respondents favor a local law banning foam food containers.

“While plastic molecules will remain as plastic particles in our environment for thousands of years,” the village notes on its website, “plastic bags are typically never used more than once before being discarded (average life-use of a plastic bag is 12 minutes).”

The law targets only retail transactions. It does not apply to plastic bags purchased for personal use at home, such as garbage bags or sandwich bags, nor does it apply to produce bags, dry-cleaning garment bags, newspaper delivery bags or plastic bags that are more than 2.25 mils thick.

Violators will be warned and then face fines of up to $200 per violation.

A growing number of municipalities nationwide and around the world have banned single-use plastic bags or expanded polystyrene food containers. Others have adopted per-bag fees or taxes—for example, Ireland’s PlasTax, enacted in 2002. (New York City has proposed a 10-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags.)

Forty-one percent support a local law banning plastic bags, and 15 percent support a local 10-cent tax on each bag.

In terms of foam food containers, 41 percent say neither a ban nor a tax is appropriate, and 13 percent support a local 10-cent tax on each container.

Both approaches have faced criticism from industry trade groups such as the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, which filed suit to block the Hastings law, and the American Progressive Bag Alliance, which maintains that plastic bags are recyclable and more environmentally friendly than paper bags or even reusable cloth shopping bags.

Wegmans Food Markets Inc. also opposes such moves, saying, “We are not aware of any evidence that bans, taxes or fees are having the impact intended.”

Some 900 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted March 9 and 10.

For single-use plastic bags, which of the following would you support? (Respondents chose all that applied.)

Neither a ban nor a tax:   48%  A local law banning them:  41%  A local 10-cent tax on each bag:  15%

For foam food containers, which of the following would you support? (Respondents chose all that applied.)

A local law banning them:  49%  Neither a ban nor a tax:  41%  A local 10-cent tax on each container:  13%

For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here.

COMMENTS:

I either reuse or recycle every single plastic shopping bag I bring home. I can’t think of any friends who don’t recycle them. We don’t need the nanny-state regulating our options and eliminating the most environmentally friendly choice we have.
—Todd VanHouten

If there is to be a ban on plastic bags, it has to be statewide.
—Ed Jackson, retired

Unless and until the Monroe County curbside recycling program accepts plastic bags and Styrofoam food containers, such items should be banned in our community. There are plenty of other viable options available for toting away one’s purchases or food from businesses and restaurants around here, ranging from paper bags and food containers to incentives to customers to provide their own.
—Christine Corrado

Wegmans is the biggest culprit here. If you have lunch at Wegmans and look in their trash bin, it’s filled with foam cartons, plastic bottles and containers, and plastic bags. The city of Ithaca (Tompkins County) is so much farther ahead, where places use cardboard and compost-friendly containers, must have bins for compost, recyclables and trash. And the trash bins don’t have much in them. We need local laws to get more environmentally friendly!
—Rick Corey, Penfield

Both products should be engineered to decompose. Until they are corrected, we should not be using them. I am not generally in favor of the government becoming involved, but I have first-hand experience of how bad these two products are for the environment.
—Mark Williams

Thanks to the polling company for presenting both sides of the issue fairly rather than the presenting one side in a favored light, which often happens. Let’s see, $200 fine for throwing out a Wegmans plastic bag? I can hardly wait for the garbage police to come to our houses to sort through our garbage. What a great use of resources! I must be different because I often reuse these bags in my trash cans. Also, I collect the bags for recycling at Wegmans. This is simply another case of big brother wanting to micromanage our lives.
—George Dounce

The plastic bags are great for my cat litter.
—Damian Kumor

Please no more taxes or regulations for something like this. I have been using the cloth bags for two to three years, and it simply reduced the clutter in my house. A weekly shopping trip would be 15 to 20 bags that would fill a closet after one month. I now use four cloth bags and put them back in my car when I am done. It was an environmentally and personal choice that made sense. I do the same if I get coffee out; I just bring in my travel mug. I wish I had more options for takeout and prepared foods. Let’s be honest, most of these containers and bags do not get recycled, they get thrown away.
—Keith Newcomer

These bags and containers are simply bad for the environment and should be banned.
—Brian Kane

We must learn to recycle all that we produce.
—David DeMallie

Our everyday lives are already overregulated by government rules and regulations. Our community currently has the ability to recycle these products. Educational programs and possibly some type of financial incentive to recycle these products would help in reprocessing these products.
—Michael Lebowitz, real estate broker

Too much government.
—Jerry McCabe, Irondequoit

More intrusion and unnecessary regulation from special interests and government—back off!
—Alphonse J. Sasso

The bags are consumables, and consumables by definition should be easily recyclable. Just this morning, I noted several of these bags had been snared by the bushes in my yard as they blew out of my neighbors’ trash into my yard. Face it, this is a well-known trash problem in need of a policy change that affects everyone uniformly.
—Dorver Kendig, Webster

“Single use”? Most people I know and I have special holders for these multipurpose bags. They make great small trash can liners, carrying all kinds of messy, wet or disposable things around. Great protection against toiletries leaking in suitcases. The uses are unlimited! Now—plastic water bottles, those are trouble. People litter our parks and trails with them. Nobody has plastic water bottle holders in their house. Empty bottles go unused into the trash, recycling or as litter. Yes, there are many uses for my multipurpose plastic bags that I get from the grocery store. I could easily name at least 50. Ever take your dog for a walk, anyone? You know at least one more use.
—Monica Monte

Instead of a tax on them how about a credit for using your own bags. Several stores in Rochester do this: Lori’s Natural Foods and Hart’s Grocery, to name two. To replace the foam, they could use corn boxes. They are biodegradable and serve the same purpose.
—Kim Pandina, Panda Wear Lapidary

Plastic bags can be recycled, and so can foam containers, I believe. However, I do prefer cardboard over foam just for the quality and texture of food I think is better in cardboard boxes. Maybe make recycling foam and other products easier. Maybe a refund like bottles and cans or credit to garbage collection costs? Taxes or bans will affect businesses by increasing costs and will ultimately get passed on to the end users. Just another tax. The permanent grocery bags are small and are germ-ridden containers. I use the grocery bags to carry things, store my cans and bottles for recycling.
—K. Youngs

Leave me alone and start worrying about something important.
—Adi Jeffers, Consultant Services

If a 10-cent tax were to be established on foam food containers or single-use bags, then any resulting tax revenues should be earmarked for directly related recycling programs.
—Heidi Zimmer-Meyer

There simply is no need for all of this plastic.
—Jim Bongard

More “laws” with no one to enforce them? It makes better sense to expend big brother’s energy by encouraging us to voluntarily place our used plastic/foam items in our recycling bins. It’s impossible to legislate common sense and reasonable behavior.
—Tom Shea, Thomas P. Shea Agency Inc.

Approximately 97 percent of the mainland United States reportedly is undeveloped, yet the environmental extremists are at it again. Recently, it was banning hydrofracking, the constant whining about the myth of major manmade global warming, animal flatulence, etc.; now Styrofoam and plastic bags. I have an idea! Why don’t we ban the hot air from the environmental extremists?
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy and Associates Inc.

What other kind of containers could food and beverages be sold in that would be cost effective? This is just another attempt to overreach into our freedom using businesses as a target for politicians to grab revenue for inefficient redistribution. What about the added costs to businesses and consumers?
—Todd Black, Black’s Hardware

Plastic food bags are an issue not because they are used but because people don’t recycle them enough. There are issues with the alternatives (both environmental and practical). An outright ban without better alternatives is not the answer. I recycle nearly 100 percent of the plastic grocery bags I use. Expanded foam containers have better alternatives and are harder to recycle so likely should be banned.
—Jeff Schuetz

Charging for bags and containers makes a shopper think twice without making them unavailable when needed. It seems to be an effective deterrent in Europe.
—Andrew Brady, Irondequoit

Monroe County, at least in the suburbs, already has one of the best recycling programs in the country! This one falls into the same category as the tax on sugar soft drinks.
—Hal Gaffin, Fairport

In both cases the tax should be refundable to encourage recycling similar to the way plastic bottles are handled.
—Charles Kaplan

Let’s ban all modern-day convenience items, bottles, cans, paper plates, disposable diapers, sanitary wrapping, fossil fuel, cars, fast food, heat, air conditioning, etc. and go back to the stone age! Things were way better then! What’s next then, Sharia law? When will these people stop?
—George Thomas, Ogden

I put this insane proposal in the same category as guns! Guns do not kill, people do! Plastic bags do not harm the environment, stupid, careless and irresponsible people do!
—J.A. DePaolis, Penfield

In high school—45 years ago—my science teacher warned us of the dangers of plastics and polystyrenes. The evidence was clear: they would degrade and eventually kill the environment. This legislation is too long overdue. But money always talks.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design

Many years ago, McDonald’s started to serve their hamburgers in Styrofoam containers to keep them warm. In response to environmentalist outrage, McDonald’s started a Styrofoam recycling program, which became the biggest in the U.S. at that time. That was not enough for the environmentalists, who demanded stopping the use of Styrofoam food containers by McDonald’s. McDonald’s caved in and the largest Styrofoam recycling program in the United States caved in, too. Be careful of unintended consequences. Be careful what you wish for. There are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered prayers (St. Theresa).
—Clifford Jacobson M.D.

After reading the comments by Wegmans, which offers good perspective about how easy it can be to just pin a solution to an idea without looking at the specific impacts (i.e.; banning plastic bags=sustainability, there is clearly more to it than that), it seems that one of the real issues to focus on may be about the level at which consumers experience directly the cost to the environment of the bags they use. The bags are offered to them at no direct cost, which is really an economic distortion of sorts, and so, they do not think of bags as something that has a cost to them, even though, at a larger environmental level, it does. I’m assuming that the stores are adding the costs of the bags they purchase into the retail cost of the products they sell. They could remove that cost from the price of their products and add it where it belongs, onto the bags themselves, both paper and plastic. I’m not sure a tax is needed to do this (nor that that would actually be the most cost effective way to pass on that cost as opposed to a market-based system). Perhaps more a requirement that stores simply pass on the true cost of bags to their consumers rather than masking it through mark-ups elsewhere. This gives the consumers a more accurate picture of real costs. This brings no real additional cost to the consumer (as it is compensated in the price of the products), but simply brings additional responsibility to the consumer. By adding a cost to the bags themselves, it may encourage consumers to start thinking more strategically about their bag usage, as opposed to using them liberally and without thought to the larger societal impact. As a result, consumers will likely be more informed and, at least in theory, will be naturally, through market-based incentives, encouraged to bring their bags in for multiple uses, or minimize the number of bags they actually use. Regardless of whether or not they actually do this in practice, they will bear more directly the cost for when they don’t. This also adds the advantage that not all consumers will have to bear the cost, only those that choose to use more bags, since the cost of bags will have been removed from the food, bringing to those who do begin to behave more conservatively, an overall savings. And to those who do choose to use more bags, theoretically, on the macro-level, they will not being paying any more, since the cost of the bags is just being displaced from where it was living before in the prices of the products. Perhaps a couple of extra cents could be added on to the cost of the bags, beyond the actual production cost, and those moneys could be sent to various environmental restoration efforts to bring an additional component of sustainability into the system.
—Julie Cramer

I agree that the chemical industry has created and produced many useful and lifesaving items. However, plastic bags for shopping and foam containers for food replaced products made from paper. Paper products are sourced from a renewable resource. When chemical-based products are carelessly discarded by consumers, that product stays in the environment forever! Paper-based products carelessly discarded rot away. We must begin to rethink our responsibility for the future of this grand earth; which provides for our current and future generations existence. It may be expensive to change our habits, but is it not worth undoing our wrongs?
—Carol Jane

I said neither to both, primarily because both can be recycled. What are really needed are improvements to recycling awareness programs. The issue I have with reusable grocery bags, which I use, is that they have to be cleaned thoroughly and often. There is clear evidence that viral infections increase in areas that ban single-use bags. I see plenty of establishments offering single-use bags, but none of them seem to be educating consumers about the issues with carrying food in them and the cleaning requirements. That is a problem to me.
—Aaron Greece

Ten cents is not enough! Twenty-five cents would be more appropriate. Five-cent cans are still thrown out the windows of autos.
—John Sackett

Both of these materials can be recycled. Since the bags are currently recycled if delivered to collection stations, it might be better to make the collection points more accessible, or to contrive a system associated with the current recycling bins. Apparently foam containers may need a subsidy for recycling. There used to be a local facility for doing so but it closed due to insufficient volume when McDonald’s went to cardboard. I think we should reopen this issue.
—David Rubin

3/3/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

2 comments

  1. Doesn’t seem like many folks in our area support a ban on single-use plastic bags, which is too bad because our environment cannot support them at all.

    Check this out: We could end up with ‘as much plastic in our oceans as fish’ http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/jan/26/plastic-oceans-environment-waste-recycling-fish

    So, yeah, this is kinda important.

    More on Recycling in our area: http://rochesterenvironment.com/recycling.htm

  2. Maggie Symington

    recycling is worthy, but reducing use in the first place should be the goal. and what exactly happens to the plastic we recycle? check out this article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/china-recycles-plastic/

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