Rachael Sternlicht / Sun Contributor

Plastic carryout bags are now banned from distribution in New York State.

March 16, 2020

How helpful is New York’s Plastic Bag Ban?

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New York State put into effect a new plastic bag ban on March 1 that aims to reduce high levels of plastic consumption and mitigate environmental hazards, such as water and air pollution from plastic disposal.

The new ban prohibits any distribution of plastic bags by any establishment that collects New York State tax unless it is an exempt bag — bags used for pharmacy prescriptions or produce bags used for fruits and vegetables.

Although many states like New York have policies in place to limit the overuse of single-use plastics, the production of plastic still continues to be a looming issue. It is projected that by 2028, the mass production of plastics will increase by more than 40 percent.

“Until we are talking about limiting plastic production, we still are going to be pushing the problem around into different places without really addressing what’s going on here,” said Ph.D. student Bethany Jorgensen, department of natural resources. Jorgenson has over 10 years of experience working with micro and macro plastics.

While there have been many major strides taken to combat the plastics issue, it requires more responsibility from plastic consumers.

According to Jorgenson, even though cities have good intentions with implementing these types of bans, “we have to recognize and always remember that the root cause behind this, is the amount of plastic that is being produced and not the amount of plastic being used,” she said.

300 million tons of plastics are produced every year, half of which are single-use only. Plastic bags are used for everyday purposes such as buying groceries, getting takeout foods, and in retail — only some of which are recycled.

“[What] makes plastics really tricky is that they don’t really disappear…we are used to treating plastic like it’s disposable,” Jorgenson said. “[We] don’t have any control or even real means of tracking [the recycling process] to make sure [our] gesture…is not getting stuck somewhere in the very convoluted recycling system,” she added.

Nevertheless, this ban can be seen as a middle step to push consumers more toward sustainable methods. The “#BYOBagNY” initiative urges New Yorkers to replace their plastic bags with reusable and more sustainable ones.

“It’s a way of trying to spark people’s attention and get the conversation going around it,” Jorgenson said.

Various Cornell-affiliated organizations have made some initiatives to garner attention surrounding sustainability. The “Take Back the Tap” initiative aims to reduce and eliminate the sale of single use water bottles on Cornell campus. Cafes such as Temple of Zeus and Manndibles have since started offering discounts to customers who bring their own mugs for drinks.

“What I encourage people to do…is [to] really just pay attention to where plastics are in their day to life and what [they] are using them for and think about what will happen to them once [they’re] done with them,” Jorgensen said.