Fellow New Yorkers, how many of you have a wad of plastic bags stuffed inside a larger bag shoved under your sink or in your pantry? Chances are, most of you. That’s because in this city – and I’m sure other cities as well – when you have a 45 minute commute with three transfers and a week’s worth of groceries to lug around, you’re going to have to double bag it. Whether a quick trip to the pharmacy or a haul at Trader Joe’s, plastic and paper respectively, the bags will be doubled up, and often quicker than you can protest. Not only that, but I’m sure you’ve had things bagged before that you never would even think to bag up. For instance, I grabbed a coffee at the bodega around the corner the other morning and the cashier tried to bag it (and put a straw in, of course)! Because our lives are so mobile and everything is so readily available, we never know what we’ll need or when. An errand turns into a spree, a walk to the park comes with many unplanned detours, and a quick stop becomes stocking up. Whether we ask for them or not, it’s hard to turn down a bag because you never know what your next move will be.
But not everyone saves those bags in a stash at home, reusing it for wet boots on a rainy day or to carry a homemade lunch. Ever notice the litter on the street and overflowing the trash cans, blowing in the wind and sometimes getting caught on your foot and clogging the storm drains? Plastic bags. And even when we do recycle them, at the end of the day they’re still bags made out of plastic, and ones that we may not have needed in the first place or at least could have planned ahead to avoid using. And the cost of this “convenience?” $10 million a year (just in NYC) to clean up and transport all of the plastic bags from the streets to the landfill.*
Thankfully, the city council recognizes the damages this luxury service has caused in the city, financially, environmentally, and aesthetically. On Wednesday the council voted on a bill proposed by Councilman Brad Lander that would actually charge consumers for using paper or plastic bags. Consumers, would, of course, be given the option of whether or not they wanted a bag. If so, a dime per bag would be added to the total. This bill would encourage the use of reusable bags, cut down on pollution, and the stores would be able to pocket the money. It’s really a win-win solution to a huge – and hugely overlooked – problem. Slowly, consumers will change their ways, even if just for their own financial convenience.
Unfortunately, the legislation was not passed, but only by 6 votes. The opposition felt this new fee would cause an uproar from consumers, especially from those ill-informed of the environmental costs of the excess plastic. To these consumers, it seems like just another hike in prices.
Still, the bill can be reworked, and it has the backing of The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council. In the meantime, there are steps we can take as consumers to refrain from using disposable, non-biodegradable bags, fee or no fee. Keep reusable totes that are sturdy but also easy to collapse and store in places you frequent, like a friend’s home or your place of work. That way, no matter how far from home you are, you’re always prepared for that last minute purchase. This tote from Lux & Eco is perfect for everything from groceries to gym clothes – I even use it to carry my laptop around. And the handles gives it a chic, purse-like feeling that makes it more of an accessory rather than just a bag. Stay posted for updates on the bill, and consider that $10 million being dumped in a landfill next time you ask to double bag it.