Webinar: Plastic Bags & the Environment

A variety of perspectives and potential solutions to the plastic bag problem were presented during Tuesday's webinar.


Earlier this week, NYSAC hosted a webinar to provide county leaders with a range of perspectives on the problems plastic bags pose and how to best protect our environment. (View the webinar above or here.)

By bringing together diverse perspectives, this webinar provides an in-depth look at the problems associated with plastic bag use, different approaches to solving the problem (local vs. state policy, fees vs. bans, etc.), and the pros and cons to each approach. (Click here to listen to the webinar as a podcast.)

NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario moderated the webinar and opened the discussion by providing an overview of the issue. Acquario focused on the environmental impacts of plastic bags, the eight courses of action included in the NYS Plastic Bag Task Force, and the single-use bag reduction measures being debated and implemented in counties across the state. Next, William Rabbia, Executive Director of the Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Authority, provided a deeper dive into the problems single-use plastics cause for solid waste managers. Discarded single-use plastic litters transfer stations and landfills, jams equipment at recycling centers, and consumes valuable space in landfills.

The second half of the webinar focused on what can be done to reduce plastic bag consumption in New York State. Suffolk County Legislator William Spencer joined the webinar to discuss the success of the county's five-cent fee on single-use plastic bags, which went into effect on January 1, 2018. In the first three to four months after the fee was implemented, reusable bag use increased from five to 50 percent, and single-use plastic bag use dropped from 70 to 30 percent. Spencer stressed the importance of education, stakeholder involvement, and community engagement to arriving at a solution that is best for your county.

NYSAC also invited two grocery industry representatives to provide their perspective on the issue. Mona Golub, Vice President of Public Relations and Consumer Services for Price Chopper/Market 32, described how the patchwork landscape of bags and fees across the United States pits localities against each other, suggesting that a solution should be implemented at the state or federal level. Price Chopper thinks a fee is a good way to discourage reliance on lightweight plastic bags and encourage people to use heavyweight reusable bags. They recommend using the fee to discount the price of reusable bags, invest in sustainable projects, and provide a 3-cent rebate for customers who bring reusable bags, which Price Chopper already offers. Jason Wadsworth, Manager of Sustainability for Wegmans, focused on the importance of education, recycling, and avoiding a return to paper bags. Wegmans has been recycling plastic bags since 1994. In 2012, they introduced a carryout bag made of 40% recycled content, which comes from the bags customers return, as well as stretch wrap and other plastics from the back room.

Gary Carrel, a Solid Waste Recycling Specialist for Erie County, provided an example of the important role counties can play in educating their residents about plastic bag use reduction. Erie County uses their website, radio ads, events, and social media to draw attention to the issue. One event involved building a polar bear named Terra out of over 3,000 plastic bags, which is the number of bags two families of four use in a single year. They also created a Twitter handle (@ErieBYOBag) and a hashtag (#erieBYOBag) to encourage customers to shop with reusable bags.

In his closing remarks, Stephen Acquario called on county leaders to discuss the issue and explore solutions. NYSAC supports a phaseout of single-use plastic bags by 2020 and believes a statewide solution is the best approach. Acquario emphasized that better education, continued recycling, investment in municipal recovery facility technology, biodegradable bags, and assistance for merchants are all essential components of the solution. Click here to watch the full webinar.

Click here to listen to the webinar as a podcast.