NYC Mayor and New York State Governor Declare *WAR* On Single-Use Plastic Bags!

"Where Your Crap Goes"

“Where Your Crap Goes” photo credit: Alan Levine

In case you haven’t heard, the big issue sweeping NYC and the entire state of New York is whether plastic bags should be banned. According to Mayor DeBlasio, ““We need to ban plastic bags — the time for debate on this is over. They’re bad for the environment, they’re bad for the economy, they’re bad for New York.”

While all of us are undoubtedly aware of the damaging effects of negligent stewardship of the natural environment, not all of us agree that plastic bags are the scourge they’re presented as lately by our elected officials.

Single-use plastic bags are anything but. The intelligent and resourceful residents of New York, New Jersey, and likely well beyond, use these “throwaway” bags for everything from scooping up their dogs’ poop to placing their own kitchen and bathroom trash in.

Plastic bags can be doubled for strength and brought to work, the beach, anywhere really. True; it’s not the most elegant solution to toting your stuff around, but when you need a few bags to bring used books back to the paperback trader, single-use plastic bags work quite well.

Refuse at Landfill

Refuse at Landfill image credit: Dmitri_66

Most often, we hear environmental crusaders nudging us toward carrying a re-usable shopping bag. That may work for some single twentysomething urban dwellers who make frequent trips to the grocery store to get a few crucial items for the day, but what about Moms who shop once a week for a family of six?

Should they bring twelve re-usable shopping bags along? What if they need more groceries than they have re-usable bags to hold? Should they then be penalized with an economic sanction of a bag fee for store-supplied bags for the remainder of their purchased items? This seems unfair and unreasonable.

In 2011, a collaborative research effort between the Department of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science at the University of Arizona,  Loma Linda University School of Public health,  and the Department of Environmental Health of Loma Linda, California, conducted a study focusing on whether reusable bags pose any significant threat to consumers, in terms of cross-contamination potential for food.


image credit: Sbak Pksa

The results are indisputable; using a re-usable bag can be hazardous to your health, and the health of your loved ones. The researchers found that most people do not wash their re-usable grocery bags, and large bacterial colonies were cultured from almost every single bag! Escherichia coli (E. coli) was found in nearly ten percent of the bags, as well as “a wide range of enteric bacteria, including several opportunistic pathogens.”

Of course, the researchers also tested whether cleaning, either with a washing machine or by hand, would affect the rate of bacteria lurking in the re-usable shopping bags. In fact, cleaning removed >99.9% of bacteria from the bags. So the conclusion of this is, as practiced, that the environmentally-conscious habit of carrying one’s own re-usable shopping bag, without washing between uses, can actually be detrimental to one’s own personal environment and health, as well as the health of one’s family! Far too often, this trend predominates when it concerns efforts to make less of an impact on the environment.

E. coli Bacteria Colorized scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip.

E. coli Bacteria
“Multi-Hue Colorized” scanning electron micrograph of Escherichia coli, grown in culture and adhered to a cover slip.
image credit: AIAID, color enhanced by Dee Alban

One other such example of instances when environmentally-friendly meant no-so-personally-friendly was the replacement of ozone-killing room freshener sprays, so common in the 1980s, with plug-ins; while better for the environment, these next-generation scent bombs may not be so great for YOU.

And, another easily cited example could be the widespread use of fluorescent light bulbs. These could leak mercury into your personal environment, but they do not consume as much electricity to operate as incandescent bulbs, which did not contain the hazardous liquid metal.

Little Grocery Shop

Little Grocery Shop
image credit: 1sock

Measures to make life more ecologically sound and environmentally sustainable should be reasonable and well-considered. Single-use shopping bags are seldom used once; re-usable shopping bags may, in fact, spread disease. These are the true facts, unpoliticized.

A bag fee will burden the lowest economic classes, the working poor and those families struggling to make ends meet. Even if food program recipients are permitted to take and use disposable bags free of charge, there are still many citizens comprising the socio-economic classes just above those on public assistance,  struggling to save every dollar every week in order to feed their families. Bag fees would adversely affect the disadvantaged who may not have quite enough extra to ever purchase re-usable bags.

There are other considerations as well. One isn’t always going to the market as a planned event; there are such times that spontaneity arises and an unplanned trip happens, even on foot. Why penalize citizens monetarily for getting some exercise? No person is going to always carry a grocery bag on their person; it’s unreasonable to expect this.

A better solution is encouraging large chain stores to require plastic bags that are bio-degradable, or even better, compostable bags.  New York State, the State of New Jersey, or any city or town, anywhere in the US,  for that matter, could also impose fees on companies choosing to continue using non-environmentally-friendly bags.

EnviGreen Compostable Plastic Bags

Ashwath Hegde and his EnviGreen Compostable Plastic Bags

In India, plastic bags were banned in several cities. Ashwath Hegde, a Mangalore-born entrepreneur states, ““The Mangalore City Corporation implemented a ban on the manufacture, sale, and distribution of plastic bags in the year 2012. But the decision was taken without preparations for alternatives. People were concerned about how they would carry products from the market now. Everyone cannot afford a bag worth Rs. 5 or Rs. 15 to carry a kilogram of sugar. I decided to come up with alternatives after hearing about these problems in my hometown.”

The results of his efforts were the creation of 100% natural and organic plastic bags, free of any chemicals. The EnviGreen bags are, in fact, comprised of natural starch from potatoes and corn and vegetable oil derivatives, a total of twelve ingredients, also including  tapioca, banana, and flower oil. Sounds delicious!

These bags are, in fact,  edible (though not suggested); they dissolve in boiling water in under a minute; outdoors, they break down in half-a-year. And, the cost is only fifty percent higher than the standard single-use

Compostable Plastic Bag

Compostable Plastic Bag

plastic bags that were commonly used before the ban.

It’s time we look into alternatives, surely; however, leaving multiple options for businesses and consumers alike may be the best choice for all.  Imposing fines and fees on a necessity that most of us rely on is unfair and unnecessary; there are alternatives, clearly.

D Alban, Author. © Copyright 2018 D Alban, H Miller,

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