Bag Ban, Suffolk County

Most roadside litter, and I’ll hold to this statement till the cows come home, with facts and photos, comes right out through the car window. Period. It’s cigarette butts, plastic bags from the convenience store, fast food packaging, alcohol bottles and cans, soda, coffee and soft drink containers, diapers and drug paraphernalia. Nearly in that order. Adjacent to a big supermarket, you get stray bags as your primary problem, but only there. Garbage trucks spew trash sometimes as well, but that’s the exception and not the rule, and that is a problem that ought to be fixable without additional cost to the beleaguered taxpayer.

The vast majority of people who shop for food at a supermarket save their bags for reuse, and the bags never end up in a tree or in the bay or inside a turtle – they get used for household refuse and then put in a municipal landfill or burned. I have no problem with that at all.  A landfill should have in-place measures to keep garbage from flying away of course, but it is the intended destination for garbage.

Litter remains, and as so often happens, the many are punished for the sins of the few.  In the case of the residents of Suffolk County, the nickle-a-bag fee to pack up your purchases is now the law.  Bring your own bags, buy some, or do without.  The only silver lining is that the money grubbing scoundrels at the legislature don’t get the money.  If they did, based on their track record they’d misappropriate it as soon as humanly possible.

We’ve had reusables for a couple of years now, and so it’s not that big a change for us.  In terms of shopping, we have already adapted to this obnoxious governmental meddling.

As part of the push to get this law passed and signed, at least some of the problem was exaggerated.  Plastic store bags last for 1000 years in the environment. This is a canard.  As anyone who’s been in the business of picking up litter knows, though many are reluctant to say so: in our environment they don’t last a year. (Stop and Shop bags don’t even last that long; they don’t last to the car.  They tear like tissue.) The ones that end up in the environment disintegrate into smaller and smaller pieces through the effects of season, sun, weather events and natural and human activities.  According to scientists, plastics break up into really small pieces and become microparticles that don’t go away.  Unfortunately, small doesn’t mean gone.  Animals mistake bits of plastic for food and they eat it. Sometimes the animals starve because their stomachs are full of undigestible plastic.  Supermarket bags are a big part of the litter problem. This is also untrue.  The vast, vast majority of plastic bags that end up in the environment come from convenience stores.  You know, the bags with the smiley face, or the black bags for that can of beer or liquor bottle.  Supermarket bags and big box store bags are seen across the street from the store as noted above.  They’re escapees.  This is a problem, of course that the solution doesn’t fit.

That said, since I have been forced to make decisions about whether to bag up my groceries, I find that I am using less of the – now store bought -disposable bags. I have chatted about this with the counter people at my local market, we are all in the same boat here in taxationland Long Island and the store employees generally don’t like the law any more than the customers.  They didn’t seem the least put-out about sharing their views on the matter and didn’t make me feel the curmudgeon at all.  People shrug.  There’s nothing anyone can do.  Fatalism is the Long Island way of coping.  Do you want a bag for that, sir?  Yes (or no as needed), and perhaps a chuckle and ‘I left them in the car.  Again.’ Smiles, thank you and have a nice day, as always.

So far, I buy the least number of store bags as humanly possible, as do others.  Will that continue, it’s hard to know.  You don’t want to overload them and especially not the Stop and Shop bags, or you’ll have a disaster on your hands. 

I felt like a bit of a cheapskate at first, chincing on plastic bags for a nickle, but that’ll change when all the usual cost of living and tax increases hit this year and are added to the drip-drip of nickle bag fees. In our household, we’ll stretch some expenses here, and cut some there, find some more work and we’ll be fine. (We’re not fleeing the Island like most of the other aging boomers, because we can afford not to and because our children and grandchildren are here and that’s what matters.) Maybe I won’t buy the new fishfinder for the kayak this year though: nah, things are not that bad. Yet.

I purchased a big roll (360) of the kind of bags that you see in the produce section and will use them to clean up after the cat ($9), and an eight pack of the small bag rolls that they sell in the pet food store to pick up after the dog, probably 80 bags total ($7). I also purchased a supply of 30 plastic wastebasket liners for the bathroom cans too ($2.99 I think). Other uses will have to be evaluated as we go.  It’s another small nut to cover, and again – it is what it is. These bags too, will go to the incinerator or the landfill as it’s not recommended to compost your pet droppings the way that we compost every bit of our kitchen vegetable waste for the past 25 years. (You actually can compost your pet droppings, but it’s not recommended and it’s a digression.)  The truth is, the bag fee will (marginally) reduce our use of plastic bags.  But for this household, it’ll probably reduce the number of bags getting into the environment by about zero, because that’s approximately how many of the ones that we used to get for free ended up in the environment.