Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

The following is a guest article by John Rozankowski, PhD

One of the reasons why so many New Yorkers voted for Mayor Bill de Blasio was that he was seen as the “anti-Bloomberg.” Among other things, people were sick and tired of Bloomberg’s endless bans and attempts to have government regulate almost every aspect of their lives.  Yet, the new City Council seems to be moving in the same direction.

Earlier this year, Councilman Brad Lander (Dem. Brooklyn) and Councilwoman Margaret Chin (Dem. Downtown Manhattan) introduced a bill in the City Council that would force people to pay 10 cents for each bag (plastic or paper) which they received in any store i.e. supermarkets, department stores, clothing stores, bodegas and even street vendors.  The merchants would keep the profits from the bag sales and those on public assistance would continue to receive unlimited bags for free.

The goal of this measure is to force people to buy and carry re-usable bags and in this way reduce the number of plastic bags that are thrown away and take forever to disintegrate in landfills.  While the objective is good, the means of achieving it are highly problematic and would create much misery:

First, how many times could one use such a bag before it became soiled, smelly and somewhat dangerous to use for food.  These bags would have to be replaced frequently.

Second, figuring out how many re-usable bags to bring to a store would be a nightmare.  Most people go to supermarkets, for example, without any lists and decide on the spot what to buy.  Their purchases are often augmented by items on sale.  In some cases, the reverse might be true and people would wind up carrying far more bags than they need.  Isn’t life tough enough for most of New Yorkers already, to have this nuisance foisted on their shoulders?

Third, just about every New Yorker uses the store plastic bag s for household trash.  This keeps their garbage pails clean of food remains and also, keeps building trash compactors or trash cans cleaner than they otherwise would be.  If people threw their table scraps directly into these receptacles, there would be an explosion of roaches, mice and rats in addition to a marked increase in pungent odors.

Fourth, making ends meet is a herculean task for many working people and imposing even more costs is putting vinegar on a wound.

Who Would Suffer the Most

There is one group of people that is rarely mentioned in the debates over this proposal and who would be affected tremendously: the cashiers at the Check-outs in all of these stores.  The lot of the cashiers, an overwhelming majority of whom are women, with many young girls working their way through college, is miserable enough already.  They are on the front-line of the stores and on the receiving end of many of the disputes with customers: over sale item prices, over change, etc.  They must also watch the cash register since if they are short at the end of their shift, they either have to pay the missing money out of their own pockets or be fired.

Under the above proposal, store managers would have every incentive to push the cashiers to impose as many bags as possible on customers to raise the profit margin.  Customers, on the other hand, would want as few bags as possible.  This would cause endless fights making the job of cashier far more stressful than it is today.

During busy times, many stores, particularly supermarkets, employ packers to keep things moving.  While the packer is loading up the groceries, the cashier is already ringing-up the next customer.  With this proposal, the cashier wouldn’t be able to ring up the sale until everything was packed and the number of bags known.  The result would be longer and slowly moving lines, a very well-known source of customer flare-ups.  One has to wonder whether proponents of the bill ever go to supermarkets or have their housekeepers do that chore for them.

The Right Thing to Do

Proponents of the Plastic Bag measure do have a point that too many bags are used, that they overload our landfills and desecrate our trees when they get caught on them during the winter.  The best answer is to reduce the number of bags gradually and this can be done by the following:

Many people would gladly recycle their extra plastic bags if they had an opportunity to do so as is seen in the following example:

A couple of years ago, bins to recycle bags began to appear in a few stores including major drug stores. In one of these drug stores, in a poor neighborhood, the response was so tremendous that the bin was emptied three times a day. Until rumors surfaced that this store was dumping the plastic bags meant for recycle into their regular trash.  The people were absolutely outraged and the bin quickly disappeared.  Whether this alleged practice was limited to one store or took place in others is unknown.

The City Council should mandate that at least every larger store, supermarkets in particular, have bins in prominent locations for the plastic bags and really send them out for recycling.

Second, bringing your own bags into a store is unknown in some neighborhoods and even elicits frowns or ridicule from some store owners.  A public campaign encouraging this practice would go a long way to making it acceptable and normal.

The result would be a gradual but definite reduction in the amount of plastic bags without imposing more burdens on citizens and on the hard working cashiers.

What Can We Do?

As I argued in my articles on saving the subway station agents and on congestion pricing, an informed public that knows what’s coming can take action and stop an unwanted measure before its proponents are ready to ram it down our throats.  Here is what can be done:

  1. Since this affects just about everyone, the City Council should hold hearings on this proposal in a couple of locations in each borough rather than one overcrowded super-long hearing in Manhattan.
  2. The people should bring this proposal to the attention of their local community boards and urge them to vote “No.”
  3. Already there are 21 council-people leaning favorably to this proposal.  26 votes are needed to pass it if the Mayor signs it and 34 votes are needed to override a mayor’s veto.  The people should bombard their council-people as well as Mayor de Blasio to stop this proposal.

With so many outstanding issues to address in education, the economy, mass transit, etc., the City Council must give over-regulated New Yorkers a break.

About John Rozankowski, PhD

Although born in Brooklyn, John Rozankowski, PhD spent most of his life in the Bronx and received his Ph.D. in history from Fordham University at Rose Hill.

After selling his rental property, John became a community activist fighting against the new Yankee Stadium, the term limit extension, the Kingsbridge Armory Shops-in-the-Armory proposal and for Bronx Borough President Reuben Diaz’s living wage campaign.  Last year, he was a volunteer in the Letitia James for Public Advocate campaign and continues to campaign in Queens for the reactivation of the Rockaway line.

John has a very strong interest in mass transit issues especially relating to the subways and buses.  The outer boroughs have always been shafted and it’s high time that Bronxites did something about it.

In addition, he is a writer and blogger on New York City issues.”

Dr Rozankowski has lived in the Bronx for 58 years and currently resides in the Bedford Park neighborhood of the Bronx.

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