Perhaps some of you are only just learning about the proposed bag fee legislation. I’ve been involved in the project for most of the four years since its inception, along with the other members of Sustainable Warwick’s BYOBag committee. We have done a great deal of research on the impacts of the single-use plastic grocery bag upon our environment and health. We’ve had meetings with elected officials and supermarket managers, listened to shop owners in our villages, communicated with other communities that have enacted bag legislation, spoken with hundreds of townsfolk and listened as they shared their frustrations on the subject.
Over 1,550 residents and merchants in the Town of Warwick have signed the petition asking for some kind of single-use bag legislation. Many of them already knew what we learned; that asking people to bring their own bags without imposing a fee garners only the slightest change in shopping habits. Face it folks, we are simply stuck in our ways, with convenience outweighing our common sense. It seems to take a little pain in the pocketbook to move us in the right direction.
When talking with the management at ShopRite and Price Chopper, there was no mustache twirling or evil snickering as some might imagine. Rather, they have been supportive of efforts to reduce the number of bags we consume. Both stores have offered a small bounty for every reusable bag shoppers brought along to carry groceries home, Price Chopper continues this practice, even now. On occasion they have given away free reusable bags to their customers. They welcomed our informational campaign, hung our signs, and set up displays to promote BYOBag Week back in September of 2015.
It seems awfully unfair that these Warwick businesses are now being accused of some kind of subterfuge. Please consider the impact this bag fee legislation will actually have upon them. The proposed law requires grocery stores to charge shoppers five cents per plastic or paper bag. If they don’t, they can be fined up to $250 for each infraction. They will need to develop procedures for implementing the law, training their employees in how to conduct themselves with the shoppers, when to charge the five cents and how to determine who is exempt from the fee, and how to politely deal with the inevitable irate shopper who refuses to pay the nickel.
As the people of Ireland, Hong Kong, Israel, Denmark, Washington DC, California, Seattle, Dallas, and many other communities around the world have discovered, that annoying fee actually brings about a change in behavior. These places have all seen a decrease in single-use plastic bag consumption, upwards of 70% in the first year their legislation was implemented. Just this January, Suffolk County introduced a five cent fee for bags and their grocery stores are already reporting a 50-80% drop in bag counts.
So if you find yourself resenting the fee, choose to bring your own bags when you shop. After all, that’s the whole idea.