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EYE ON BUSINESS: How could a bag ban in New York affect businesses in Lake Placid?

January 25, 2019
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Linda Hudson of Keene Valley used a reusable bag to carry her copy of Michelle Obama's new book "Becoming" out of The Bookstore Plus Friday, Jan. 18. She said she doesn't like traditional plastic bags retailers have used for decades.

"I've been using reusable bags for about eight or 10 years," she said. "I hate when you've got hundreds of plastic bags stuffed into the kitchen drawers and cabinets. I don't really see any use for them besides cleaning up after dogs."


Article Photos

Sarah Galvin at The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid places a book in a reusable shopping bag owned by Linda Hudson of Keene Valley Friday, Jan. 18. Hudson and Galvin both said they don’t like to use single-use plastic bags.
(News photo — Griffin Kelly)


In Gov. Andrew Cuomo's 2019 State of the State budget book, he proposed a statewide ban of single-use plastic bags in an effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag production and disposal. Cuomo didn't provide much information, but he did offer a detailed bill through the state Legislature in April 2018, which legislators did not approve.

"The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment," Cuomo said when he announced the bill last year.

If an identical bill is approved by the Assembly and Senate and signed into law by the governor, the ban would apply to non-compostable bags provided by retailers for items such as clothes pre-packaged foods and more. It would not apply to bags carrying uncooked meats, sliced cold cuts, fruits and vegetables, bulk items like coffee beans and candy. It would also exempt newspaper delivery bags, dry cleaning bags and carry-out food delivery bags.

Whether the bill proposed in 2018 will be the same as the one proposed in the 2019 budget remains to be seen.

Cities such as Chicago, Boston, Austin and Seattle have banned single-use plastic bags, and California banned them throughout the entire state.


Local businesses

The News asked multiple retailers in the Lake Placid area what they thought of banning single-use plastic bags.

Sarah Galvin, who co-owns The Bookstore Plus on Main Street, said she'd like to see a ban happen.

"There's enough plastic in the world," she said. "I think people are educating themselves and getting more in tune with carrying their own bags, which is huge. More now than ever before, I see people using reusable bags and we always thank them for doing it. It saves us a bag. Saves paper. Saves plastic."

Although The Bookstore Plus normally uses paper bags, it does keep a few plastic bags on hand for rainy days.

"It is problematic when you sell paper books and paper greeting cards to not keep them dry," Galvin said. "So that's something we'll have to figure out, but I'm all for the legislation."

As far as costs go, paper bags with handles tend to cost around $54 for a carton of 250, while those plastic "thank you" bags are about $37 for 1,000.

Cathy Johnston and Katherine Volmrich work at Ruthie's Run, a retail clothing store near the intersection of Main Street and Saranac Avenue. They've noticed more people bringing their own bags and would not be against getting rid of single-use bags.

"A lot of ladies will keep a small one folded up in their purse, or they might use a backpack," Johnston said.

Volmrich said she likes to keep at least one reusable bag in her car just in case she needs it. She also prefers to use a canteen instead of constantly buying plastic water bottles.

Like The Bookstore Plus, Ruthie's Run also has some plastic bags but generally uses paper.

"The plastic bags we have are really sturdy and high grade, but were probably not going to reorder them," Johnston said. "Sometimes people even bring them back to us."

Dan Bain, co-owner of the Adirondack Corner Store on Newman Road, said he hasn't fully formed an opinion on a ban of single-use plastic bags, but he doesn't think it would fix pollution issues.

"We've considered going to paper," Bain said. "I personally don't like plastic bags just because I don't like seeing them flying around in the wind and on the streets. Unfortunately, many businesses have become so reliant on plastic. But, as a convenient store, it could be more difficult going to paper. It'd be more waste, and you'd have to stock so many different sizes."

Bain said it's rare for a customer to come in with their own reusable bags.

"One in a thousand," he said.

The Hannaford and Price Chopper supermarkets on Saranac Avenue haven't gotten rid of single-use plastic and paper bags, but they did recently start charging 5 cents per bag. It's 10 cents for a paper bag with handles at Price Chopper.


Paper, plastic or cotton

It may seem like paper is the way to go for provided bags at retail shops, but that's not a perfect solution. Paper requires more energy and money to produce than plastic.

Plastic bags may be harder to recycle, occasionally getting caught in machines, but paper bags are heavier and require more energy.

If they go to a landfill, paper takes up more space and degrades no faster than plastic.

In a 2007 report from Bousted Consulting and Associates, "Life Cycle Assessment for Three Types of Grocery Bags - Recyclable Plastic; Compostable, Biodegradable Plastic; and Recycled, Recyclable Paper," it states, "When compared to 30 percent recycled fiber paper bags, polyethylene grocery bags use less energy in terms of fuels for manufacturing, less oil, and less potable water. In addition, polyethylene plastic grocery bags emit fewer global warming gases, less acid rain emissions and less solid wastes. The same trend exists when comparing the typical polyethylene grocery bag to grocery bags made with compostable plastic resins -traditional plastic grocery bags use less energy in terms of fuels for manufacturing, less oil and less potable water, and emit fewer global warming gases, less acid rain emissions, and less solid wastes."

The report was provided to the Progressive Bag Alliance, a group that represents the U.S. plastic bag manufacturing and recycling industry.

If customers don't want to use paper or plastic, they can bring cotton tote bags - like the type PBS and NPR give away during telethons. Yet, some studies show that even totes aren't ideal.

In a report from the U.K. Eco-group the Environment Agency called "Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006," the study found that "starch-polyester blend bags have a higher global warming potential and abiotic depletion than conventional polymer bags, due both to the increased weight of material in a bag and higher material production impacts."

Cotton tote bags would have to be used 131 times to ensure they have lower global warming potential than conventional plastic carrier bags that are not reused, the study said. That's nearly two years' worth of groceries.

So what is the best bag? According to some studies, the best choice is a reusable non-woven polypropylene bag (NWPP). It's a plastic bag that feels like canvas. In a 2007 report, "An Overview of Carryout Bags in Los Angeles County," the study found that NWPP bags consumed less material and produced fewer greenhouse emissions than biodegradable starch bags, single-use plastic bags, paper bags with handles and thick boutique plastic bags.


The mindset

Plastic bags have been known to hurt the environment and animals in a number of ways. Animals such as cows and turtles can eat them, obstructing their digestive systems, they can pollute habitats, damage aesthetic values and clog sewer systems.

Whether it's bags, straws or water cartons, paper has gained popularity when it comes to transporting or packaging retail products.

Paul Smith's College environmental science professor Curt Stager said one possible reason why people prefer paper over plastic is that it's easier to see the immediate other uses for paper.

"It comes from trees," Stager said, "and when you're not using it as a bag, you can put it in a compost pile or throw it on a fire for warmth. Plastic seems to have fewer obvious uses. I have a shirt made from recycled plastic, but it just doesn't hit on the same gut level."

Whereas paper comes from the plants that grow in many people's backyards, plastic, most of which is man-made, comes from processes involving coal, crude oil and natural gas.

Stager also said plastic pollution is fairly noticeable in some areas of the world.

"I've been to Peru and parts of Africa where there's plastic everywhere," he said. "It's stuck all over the vegetation and it hangs from the trees. It looks like a blizzard of plastic."



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