Plastic bag ban proposed for Tompkins County

Lawmakers in Tompkins County are about to consider a proposal to ban plastic grocery bags.

After 7 years of study the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council is recommending the ban. Brian Eden says they become a hazard to wildlife and counteract their efforts to be environmentally friendly. "It gets into the recyclable materials. It jams bailers. It goes into storm drains. It contaminates leaf collections." Eden told CNY Central's Jim Kenyon.

The proposal calls for a ban on plastic disposable grocery bags, along with a surcharge if you opt to use paper bags. The amount of the surcharge is yet to be determined. The ultimate goal is to steer you into buying reusable cloth or plastic grocery bags.

Shoppers at the Wegmans supermarket in Ithaca have a range of opinions about the idea of banning plastic bags. Tee-Ann Hunter told Kenyon "They banned plastic bags in Botswana. I think if they can do it there, we might be able to do it here in Ithaca."

Rachel Behler filled her grocery cart with plastic bags but only because she left her reusable bags at home. " I think a better system is where you pay extra for plastic bags, 15 cents for plastic and 5 cents for paper, but all in all it would be a great idea."

But Helen Dormady finds the plastic bags useful. "I would like it to continue. I use it for trash, kitty litter, otherwise I don't know what I'd be using."

On July first, the Tompkins County Legislature's Environmental Quality Committee will begin looking into the proposal. The chair of the committee, Carol Chock says there will be plenty of dialogue among consumers, environmentalists and retailers, but she thinks people can adapt to the change. "When I grew up we didn't have seat belts in our cars. Now I don't drive down my driveway without fastening that seat belt."

When asked how he would respond to those who say the county is taking away a consumer choice, Eden replied, "We do that in a lot of ways in this country. You have to have a license to drive. This is just something that is a benefit to society and I think it's a benefit at a very small cost."

Eden says plastic bag bans already exist in some 80 other communities in the United States.

This afternoon, Wegmans Sustainability Coordinator, Jason Wadsworth issued the following statement:

"We don't have a position on the Tompkins County proposal.

We believe that reusable bags are the best way to reduce waste. An increasing number of our customers are using reusable bags, but today, the majority still opt for plastic bags. By promoting the use of reusable bags, we have been able to reduce single-use bags by 4,000 per day per store.

We also believe that a closed-loop recycling program for plastic bags is the best way for us to meet customer needs, while reducing waste. Our plastic bags are made from 40% recycled content. The plastic bags that are returned to us for recycling are used by our supplier in the manufacture of new plastic bags.

We welcome the opportunity to sit down with Tompkins County to discuss all of the issues surrounding the proposal, and to that end, I plan to contact them within the next week."