By Christina Coulter
They’re everywhere — in our grocery stores, lining our trashcans and landfills, hanging in trees, floating in our river, trapped in and around the throats of sea animals and, as recently reported on the Internet, at the deepest recesses of the ocean.
They’re plastic shopping bags. Here in Ulster County, lawmakers are trying to drastically reduce local use of the bags with a proposed local law.
On May 15, legislators voted to set a public hearing on the “Bring Your Own Bag Act” for June. Should it pass into law, the use of these bags by many retail outlets could be banned outright by this time next year. Less harmful but still ecologically not-optimal paper bags would be provided at the cost of five cents each.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about at the legislative level over the course of at least three years. The history of it goes back to 2007,” said Legislator Tracey Bartels of Gardiner/Shawangunk. “It’s been a collaborative process of weighing what is good for the environment and what is good for the county… we asked about changing habits — in other communities [that have enacted similar legislation] it’s documented that people start bringing their own bags.”
Australia, China, South Africa, Rwanda and Bangladesh are some of over 40 countries to “ban the bag”; within the United States, over 200 counties and municipalities have done the same, including the state of Hawaii. As of now, the only community within Ulster County to ban plastic bags on a town level is New Paltz; according to Bartels, Nassau and Westchester county are “just behind us.” Suffolk County currently imposes an additional fee on plastic and paper products.
Rather than just imposing higher prices on plastic bags as a deterrent, Bartels said banning them outright has been shown to be more effective in other communities. She cited a 2016 initiative in Chicago that upped the price of plastic bags, which according to a study commissioned by the city from New York University researchers and the University of Chicago Energy and Environment, lab decreased the usage of plastic bags by over 40 percent.
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