Cornell Professor Warns of Loopholes in Plastic Bag Ban

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The state’s plastic bag ban is set to take effect March 1, but Cornell professor Mildred Warner is concerned about potential loopholes being exploited in cities around America that have already done so.

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A professor of city and regional planning, Warner is also an expert on how to promote environmental sustainability at the local level and a fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability – which played a role in developing the guidelines for regulating plastic bags.

The state DEC released their final recommendations, which did note that a thicker plastic bag is now being sold in stores as ‘reusable.’

Warner says examples like these are in direct conflict with the state’s intention with the law – to reduce plastic.

According to Warner, the only effective method of reducing plastic consumption in New York would be to play a high tax on it that would incentivize residents to use other materials.

See Wagner’s full comments below:

“As New York implements its plastic bag ban on March 1, it will join only a handful of other states that have also taken the lead to reduce plastic waste in our waterways and streets.

(Public News Service photo)

As we know, the costs of plastic bag waste are high, both in terms of environmental degradation and waste management. Research shows that the best way to get rid of plastic bags is to use a hybrid model: a plastic bag ban, plus a fee for paper bags. The hybrid model encourages consumers to bring reusable bags and the fee can also be used to purchase reusable bags for use by low income consumers.

New York’s plastic bag ban borrows from best practices in that it’s a hybrid system that involves both a ban and a fee on alternatives. Where the law could be improved is in allowing counties to impose a higher fee – closer to the actual costs of plastic bag clean up. New York has set its optional county fee too low at five cents, with only two cents of that amount going to the county.

Had New York state increased that fee, it could have left more of those funds in the hands of counties, which bear the costs of waste management and recycling.

Research from other cities shows that if there are loopholes, such as the ability to get around the thickness requirements, the plastic bag manufacturers and retailers will do it. This is another reason to include a fee for any alternative bag – plastic or paper. New York state has given retailers and the bag manufacturers a year to get prepared for this shift. Now they need to work on consumer education.

Retailer and consumer behavior are key: retailers need to reduce their use and promote alternatives, but equally as important, consumers will also need to make the shift.” -Prof. Mildred Wagner, Cornell University

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