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Remember New York's Plastic Bag Ban? Enforcement Begins Oct. 19

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Central New Yorkers who aren’t already in the habit of grabbing their reusable bags before heading into the store have about a month to get it right.  You may have heard that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation will start enforcing the state’s single use plastic bag ban on Oct. 19. Enforcement was originally supposed to start March 1, but a court case delayed that. Hanna Ring is CNY program coordinator for Citizens Campaign for the environment, she says COVID-19 was also a factor in the delay.

“The plastic bag industry lost a very strategic campaign to hinder the implementation of the statewide plastic bag ban,” Ring said. “They weren’t basing that on sound science, just people’s fear in a very uncertain time.”

Ring says studies referenced by the industry were not peer reviewed, nor did they even examine whether the virus could be transmitted on reusable bags.  But several retail chains had eliminated plastic bags in anticipation of the March 1 date, so Ring says many shoppers have likely already changed their behavior.

“Local grocery stores like Wegmans already have phased [plastic bags] out and people have adjusted to that very easily,” she said. “I think this will be a smooth transition, we’ve been anticipating it for so long now. I think we’re easily going to step in to more sustainable practices.”

Still, some chains never phased out the plastic bags, and even reintroduced them while the law was hung up in court. Others are offering paper bags, which Ring says isn’t the intended goal.

“The idea with plastic bag legislation is for people to change their behavior and to hurt disposable bag consumption overall,” she said. “The point is not to just switch from plastic to paper, but to switch from disposable to reusable.”

Ring says the plastic bag ban is the best step the state can take to change shopper behavior while also reducing the plastic that contaminates waterways and the environment.  State lawmakers originally passed the plastic bag ban in March of last year.

DEC is using the hashtag #BYOBagNY as part of a mass social media campaign to encourage New Yorkers to switch to reusable bags when shopping.