By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many existing recycling policies, particularly those involving plastic.
Now, while this may in effect be a bit of a blessing in disguise – as it highlights the flaws in our touching but misplaced faith in techno fixes such as calling for the recycling fairy to solve our plastic problem – the net effect of cancelling many recycling schemes is to burden us with more rubbish of which we need to dispose.
(For more detail on how the pandemic has – temporarily?- killed recycling, see my earlier post, Coronavirus Kayoes U.S. Recycling, as well as these subsequent crossposts by others, Rubbish Is Piling Up and Recycling Has Stalled – Waste Systems Must Adapt and Recycling Isn’t Enough to Tackle the World’s Worsening Plastic Pollution Crisis).
Against this backdrop, New York has finally implemented its ban on most single-use plastic bags, originally supposed to take effect in March. At this point, one should applaud the New York ban, which is steadily marching forward despite the steadily worsening COVID-19 crisis, which has seen a second wave of infection arise in places that had presumed the infection had been brought under control, including New York and much of Europe. Of course, my more cynical side feels compelled to report that this ban is exactly the kind of low-cost virtue signalling approach to public policy that passes for serious action in these United States, so I was not surprised to see our old friend, Andrew Cuomo, who has done such a lamentable job with COVID-19, signed the measure into law, in March 2019 saying:
“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,” Gov. Cuomo said when he signed the legislation. “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. “ (See The New York plastic bag ban is finally being enforced in businesses across the state).
The New York ban is a reminder that the appearance of COVID-19 has not, alas, chased our other problems away. Yet rather than lauding our ability to pluck such low-hanging fruit, we now need to address some of the broader issues that arise from our reliance on plastic packaging, whether single-use or otherwise.
Details of New York Changes
As Spectrum News NY1 reports in New York’s Plastic Bag Ban to Resume Monday,
Under the law, customers must bring their own bag, or pay a five-cent fee for a paper bag. If retailers distribute the single-use plastic bags, they will be fined.
Importantly, the plastic bag ban does not include produce bags for meat, fish, vegetables or fruit.
The ban was held up by the pandemic, since a crucial part was that customers would bring their own disposable bags. These were seen as a possible vector for COVID-29 transmission.
Another obstacle was a lawsuit by Long Island’s Poly-Pak Industries. This August, this manufacturer lost its bid before the New York State Supreme Court , and as the New York Post reports in Long-delayed New York plastic-bag ban to kick off on Monday:
Last month, the judge gave the green-light for the ban to move forward as long as merchants had one-month’s notice it was coming.
The last time I was in New York – December 2019 – I observed many merchants gearing up to comply with the ban. So the start-stop nature of implementation may have wrong-footed many of them, but registers as a small challenged to others retail businesses have had to confront this year.
In addition, however, as The Post reports in New York’s Oct. 19 plastic bag ban meets new challenges, other lawsuits brought by bodegas and supermarkets remain pending.
Business Support for Change
Despite these lawsuits, Spectrum News NY1 reports that some businesses and others and others see the rationale for change:
While some business owners remain uncertain on the impact it may have on business, others are consider it a necessary change.
“Supporting the no plastic bag ban is one way for us to support a positive change in our world,” said Badr Alsaidi, who owns a few bodegas in the Bronx.
Alsaidi has been preparing for the ban to take effect and embraces it for its environmental benefits.
“Plastic in general is one huge cause of climate change. This is one way for us to step in with recycling,” Alsaidi added.
Alsaidi also works with the Yemeni Americans Merchant Association, a group working to educate business owners on how to adjust to the ban.
“Yes, this causes a lot of uncertainty, tension between clients and merchants. As you mentioned, clients not wanting to use another bag or not having another bag at home,” Alsaidi explained.
Business owners we spoke to who were against the ban did not want to go on camera, though some of them said it’s a financial burden to have to buy more paper bags, and their customers just prefer plastic. Others think it’s too soon to enforce the ban because we are still in a pandemic.
One customer we spoke to isn’t looking forward to it at all.
“It’s going to be hard. We’re all used to having those bags. We’re used to carrying them,” the shopper said.
And yet other shoppers said the benefits will outweigh the negatives.
“It’s going to improve the environment,” one said. “You see the plastic bags on the street. I think if they tell people to not use the plastic, it will improve a lot.”
This New York ban is a small step towards controlling the plastic problem, yet so much remains to be done about the plastic scourge not only in New York but in other states across the country – not to mention the initiatives that must be undertaken across the world.