Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NYC Misses the mark on plastic bags

NYC just passed a plastic bag recycling law that will require stores to have highly visible plastic bag recycling bins in their stores and print a recycling message on the bags themselves.

While I applaud the city for recognizing the problems, I gotta say this is a pretty disappointing response to the problem. By simply asking companies to encourage recycling, they are really accomplishing next to nothing because the people who don't will continue not to and the people who already do will continue to do so. In addition, those few who do start to recycle, will feel as if they have "done their part" when the real way to help is to fore go the bag to begin with. A few years ago, Ireland, finding themselves drowning in bags, imposed a plastic bag tax that eradicated 95% of the bags that were used, and China just outlawed thin bags altogether. Why is it that we in this country find it so hard to ask folks to step up to the plate in a way that will mean something?

Sorry to sound negative about this as I do applaud them for attempting to fix the problem, but if this is the best they can come up with, I fear that it is too little too late. The city of Los Angeles is attempting to deal with the same issue (LA'ers use 5 billion bags a year). Hopefully they'll come up with something a bit more productive.



Anonymous said...

I agree. This illustrates (as described in William McDonough's Cradle to Cradle) the difference between eco-efficient and eco-effective policies. Plastic bags (which are generally made out of poly-ethylene) are downcycled. The process that takes old plastic bags as an input, doesn't generate a plastic bag again. Plasticizers and other amendments must be added to use them for a lower quality purpose. And requiring stores to accept old bags doesn't require anyone to use them in a downstream process.

here I am! said...

Glad you are back I have missed your blog.
I just dont see why we cant go back to how it used to be. when I grew up there were no plastic bags at all. we wrapped our sandwiches in wax paper and carried a paper sack.
there were no plastic bags in the grocery store for the produce, you put it also in a paper bag.
I dont know how we kept things in the fridge, but I do remember using some tupper wear to keep things fresh in the fridge.

Dave said...

Well said and much more technical than I'm capable of. Bottom line is that these things are completey non essential as there are so many other ways to carry things around (like on your head for instance..well not your head specifically but you get my point).

Dave said...

Raw Food,
I hear ya. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that food when we were younger was much less processed and fresher, ie, made from scratch much of the time. So it was made for the occasion more often than not (less leftovers, stocking) and it was made from natural ingredients so less packaging.
Tell me about your ID name.

here I am! said...

Oh the name Raw Diva is from my blog. just click on my icon and you can see my blogs at the bottom. I eat mostly raw food. It is more than just salads!

Rejin L. said...

Don't apologize for sounding negative - NYC's legislators should apologize for being lame. And for caving in to the influence of the plastics industry. This is a recycling bin law, rather than a recycling law. It requires stores to set up bins but provides no incentive for people to actually bring the bags in.
They are passing it off as a pro-environment law, when the real beneficiary is the plastic bag manufacturers who get to keep profiting from an unsustainable product.

Anonymous said...

I don’t like that. There oughta be a law.

We have oodles of thin plastic bags because we like them. Walk half a mile to the grocery store or take a couple of buses to do the same and then start coming up with alternatives. There are people even in LA who have to do their shopping by foot. Tell them to start lugging a canvas bag everywhere they go or carry a couple of paper grocery bags home on the bus.

In NYC people walk, take buses and the subway a great deal more than in LA. To tax plastic bags would be taxing most of the people that live there.

If you want to get rid of plastic bags, find a better alternative that people want instead of punishing the populace with laws and taxes.

two cents _ _ jB

Dave said...

Hey JB, thanks for the post, you bring up something I hadn't really thought of. That said, i don't think that cloth bags are really that much heavier than plastic, and for my part (and I do walk to the store), I'd much prefer cloth to plastic for the trip as they aren't as apt to break when switching positions while walking, etc.

I don't know that I agree that we have plastic bags because we like them, (I don't really know anyone who is enamored with plastic bags, but I'll bet they are out there). That said, i hear ya on the idea that a lot of people who walk to the store may do so for economic reasons and while I a $10 outlay on bags which i will earn back is not a problem, it is for some. Perhaps the government should step in an offer cloth bags to those on financial support so they have the option too? Of course I'm speaking off the top of my head and may be way off target, but i do think that there needs to be a larger force helping us make the change.

Any thoughts?

Rejin L. said...

JB, New York City isn't taxing plastic bags, just asking people to recycle them. I don't think that goes far enough, but we can't complain about being charged or forced to do anything.
I walk to and from the supermarket - about 10 blocks each way, and I've been using canvas tote bags that I can carry on my shoulders. They are much easier to carry than plastic bags. And they either came from Freecycle, or my sister got them for free at conferences, so I didn't spend any money on them. Goodwill usually has plenty of them, too, and some people even make their own. No one has to break the bank and buy fancy bags just for groceries.

Anonymous said...

I believe the counter at the top of the web page is all the argument one needs to assert that we like our plastic bags – if not love them.

When we fall out of love with our conveniences then maybe plastic bags will cease to be an issue.

Maybe cloth bags aren’t that heavy. But then I wouldn’t be the one taking a tired kid with me to the store after work. If I want to buy fresh and local and have only a tote bag to carry groceries in, how often do I need to go to the store to feed two people? What if I can’t get everything I need at one store? What if I have to take a bus? What if it’s snowing outside?

two cents _ _ jB

Dave said...

Hey JB,
Valid points. I think convenience is a huge part of the problem which is why I give NYC low marks to begin with. The other thing I'd add is I don't have all the answers (or that many really) just a ton of questions and concerns and I'm trying to go through them one by one. I don't believe that there is any absolutely right or wrong way to do anything as no too of us will look at the same problem the same way. There's no question that at present time it's harder for most people of limited means to live an organic, home grown, non-plastic based lifestyle as many of these things require extra money. My only beef is that they shouldn't. It should be harder to live unsustainably than live sustainably and it's going to take more than you and I changing our choices to make that possible.
Sorry if i got too preachy there, still a little shell shocked from the flu. I hear your thoughts though. Thanks for the input.

Unknown said...

Hey Dave--

Looks like we're already 2/3 through the year, and I've only now stumbled upon your eye-opening blog!

I felt the need to comment on this post in particular, as I think the whole notion of a "debate" between keeping plastic bags or not is ridiculous. Here in Seattle, they've decided all disposable garbage bags will have a 20-cent tax. I'm not bothered, as I've already been taking cloth totes for awhile.
Yesterday, while at the bus stop, a petitioner approached me, asking if I wanted to sign so we can "take a democratic vote on whether the bag tax is fair or not." What?! Hello! If the government doesn't step in and mandate something, people aren't going to change their ways. I declined, telling him I'm not bothered by the law. The lady next to me eagerly signed, with the reasoning that plastic bags have many useful purposes. !!!

Also, I wanted to comment about the discussion above, where Anonymous is arguing that cloth bags aren't convenient for people who walk. I have been car-less for a year now, and I have to walk at least a mile to the farmer's market for fresh produce. This isn't even considering that the grocery story is even further. I have no problem with my cloth bags while walking around, and actually find them way more convenient.