Retailers throughout Freeport are stocking up on thousands of reusable bags as they try to meet the demands of a new plastic bag ban that goes into effect statewide on March 1.
The Plastic Bag Waste Reduction Act was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last April in an effort to protect the environment. State officials estimate that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually, and nationwide studies show that about 50 percent of single-use plastic bags end up as litter.
“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,” Cuomo said at the bill signing. “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 our oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”
Under the law, businesses cannot distribute single-use bags unless they are used to carry food items, bulk items like fruits and vegetables, a newspaper, a garment bag, a trash bag or used for prescription drugs. The law also encourages customers to bring their own reusable and machine-washable bags, but if they use their own plastic bag to shop, a retailer is required to recycle it.
Jose Gutierrez, the operational manager at Compare Food Supermarket, on N Main Street, said the store stocked up on thousands of reusable bags, some of which will be distributed for free during the first few weeks of March. He added that it was too early to tell how the ban could affect retailers and said it would ultimately come down to how the customers react. Jenny Jorge, vice president of operations at Gala Foods Supermarket, on W Merrick Road, agreed and said her own store had recently acquired about 5,000 reusable bags to use at the store.
“It’s good that they were able to do this statewide so that everyone’s on an even playing field and customers don’t go elsewhere for convenience,” Jorge said. “This will be a bit of an adjustment for everyone, but it’s a good thing for the environment.”
The law also includes a provision allowing cities and counties to adopt a minimum 5-cent fee for paper bags, but Nassau County opted out. As a result, each individual retailer must decide whether he or she would like to charge for paper bags, and could charge more than the 5-cent minimum, and declare the extra money as income. Nassau County Legislator Debra Mulé, of Freeport, said she was glad that the state was moving in the right direction and that the law would raise awareness about the importance of plastic pollution.
“We have a problem around the world with plastic, from animals being caught in bags to the vortex of plastic polluting the Pacific Ocean,” Mulé said. “This is a problem of our own making, and we have to come up with solutions. I hope this law helps us see less plastic in our garbage.”