Plastic grocery bags are going out, but which bags are staying?

Western New York

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)–The days of single-use plastic bags at grocery stores might be numbered, but some people are asking which plastic bags?

Retailers and environmentalists say, the new state law that bans the use of plastic grocery bags next March was written too broadly, and it could affect bags retailers believe to be reusable.

As it turns out, many of those reusable bags that are okay today, actually contain some plastic and when the law takes effect March 1, 2020 some retailers who have been stocking up on those bags are worried they might be outlawed.

The New York State Bag Waste Reduction Act is designed to eliminate single-use plastic grocery bags to protect the environment, but retailers say the wording of the law is confusing.

James Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores said his understanding of the law is that it, “Prohibits the use of any plastic in retail stores, but the folks at the Environmental Conservation Department are now saying it is okay to use thicker plastic bags that are reusable.”

Some legislative experts say because the law states, “any plastic bag,” it could be interpreted a number of different ways, such as bags we consider reusable today–if it is a cloth bag and has some plastic in it–would be banned as of March, or a cloth bag that has plastic handles would also be banned by the new law.

Peter Iwonowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York said the plastic bag ban did not get the type of deliberation it needed because it was included in the package of bills in the state budget that had to be passed by April 1.

“The law is pretty clear, the ban affects all plastic bags, and if there is a desire to modify that, then people should draft legislation and put it out for comments. It should not be done behind closed doors or tucked into a budget negotiation.”

The State Department of Environmental Conservation has advised convenience store operators that heavier gauge bags would acceptable under the new law, but until the operators get firm guidance from the DEC, Calvin said they plan to use paper bags only, which are not very useful when buying frozen or refrigerated products because of the condensation.

“Because the paper bag will fail by the time you are at the door leaving the store.”

A spokesperson for Tops issued a statement that said, in part, the supermarket chain “has a variety of reusable and recyclable bag options,” and that Tops, “will be in full compliance by March 2020 when the law goes into effect.”

A spokesperson for Wegmans is also confident their bags will be in compliance with the new law.

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