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Plastic Bag Ban in New York City

Image Credit: Juan Pablo Serrano

EMILY PISACRETA, HOST: When you visit a New York City grocery store or a deli, your purchases will probably come in a thin plastic bag. More than 27 million of the bags are given out daily in the city.

TAY GLASS, HOST: But as of March 1, stores will no longer be allowed to give out free plastic bags -- instead customers will pay for paper, or bring their own reusable bags. Sarah Gelbard explores the impacts of this change.

SARAH GELBARD, BYLINE: In New York City, thin plastic bags are a part of everyday life.

MEIER: I use plastic bags to store my diaries when I'm traveling so that they don't get wet or, like, dirty.

RADIC: And I use plastic bags to pick up my dog's poop.

GALINZOGA: I use plastic bags to take my lunch to school.

HALAWANI: And I use plastic bags to throw away my trash.

GELBARD: This weekend, that is going to change. Restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores and bodegas will no longer be allowed to use thin plastic bags. Instead, they’ll hand out paper bags for a five cent fee. Tatianna Homonoff is an Assistant Professor of Economics at NYU. She expects the new policy will reduce waste from all disposable bags.

HOMONOFF: Similar policies have been passed in California and those have been shown to be very effective at curbing the use of all disposable bags. There's definitely a shift towards paper bags because plastic bags are no longer offered, but the overall level of disposable bag use goes down.

GELBARD: David Tyler is a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oregon. He says that while switching to paper bags will reduce plastic pollution in landfills and waterways, the carbon footprint from paper bag production is actually double that of plastic.

TYLER: And the solid waste that is produced in the manufacturing of paper is five or six times that of the solid waste produced when you make a plastic bag.

GELBARD: Tyler says the best solution is reusable tote bags made from recycled plastics.

TYLER: So like maybe you recycle a drink bottle or something like that and then they convert that into a tote bag.

GELBARD: Jason Wadsworth is a sustainability director for Wegmans grocery stores. He says the chain ran a test of the plastic bag ban last summer and found that instead of paying for paper bags, most customers were switching to reusable ones.

WADSWORTH: We were seeing reuse rates above 70%. It does cost more to use paper bags than it does plastic bags, which is why our goal all along was to make this a program about reusable bags, not about paper bags.

GELBARD: Many stores in the city now have reusable bags for sale. Tito Castillo works at Thrifty Deli in Morningside Heights. Standing at the cash register, he pulls out a bright green, thick plastic bag from behind the counter.

CASTILLO: This bag is made from recycled material. And it’s eco-friendly, non-toxic, and you use it 100 or 125 more times than a regular black bag. And it's recyclable. It’s recycled plastic.

GELBARD: Starting Sunday, Thrifty Deli will offer this reusable bag to customers for 15 to 20 cents each. Sarah Gelbard, Columbia Radio News.


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