OLEAN, NY – Tim Lyons plans to be at work Sunday just to "see how things go."
Lyons, who manages the Tops on West State Street, was among employees and owners at three local supermarkets weighing in on how the New York Bag Waste Reduction Law, in effect starting Sunday, will affect grocery store checkouts.
The law mandates that all businesses that are required to collect sales tax can no longer put purchased items in single-use plastic bags. Pharmacy prescription bags and produce bags are exceptions to that rule.
Customers can opt to keep reusing the one-use plastic bags they may have from previous shopping trips, to bring or purchase sturdier, reusable bags or to buy five-cent paper bags. Businesses must have on-site recycling receptacles for plastic bags. And the sale of those five-cent paper bags will benefit municipalities and counties.
Lyons had positive thoughts on the process.
“I think a lot of people have already heard this,” Lyons said. “They’re better prepared than you think.”
Tops has showcased reusable bags for months, and Tops employees have worked to educate the customers about the ban and various grocery options for carrying out groceries.
Mady Burdick, a cashier and deli clerk at Jim’s Park & Shop on Front Street, said she worries about the cleanliness of reusable bags. She has seen mud on bags and insects inside them.
Her coworker, cashier, Reyna Reisner, commented that persons in her age group have been raised using plastic bags and that it is going to be up to them to find new alternatives.
“We’ve never known anything else,” Reisner said, expressing concerned not everyone will know what to do when plastic bags are gone.
James Mahar, owner of Jim’s Park & Shop, mentioned a paper bag shortage. He said he has tried since January to get an increased supply of paper bags from Bunzl, but the company cannot keep up with the new demand.
Jaeson Shaner, who is manager at Jim’s Park & Shop and at the Park & Shop on West State Street, said he worries about the possible waste and pollution the increased use of paper bags may cause, that the processes of producing and transporting them will lead to more carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Paper takes up more space than plastic; thus, more vehicles will be needed to transport them.
Customers opting to bring in reusable bags would be better, Shaner said.
Tom Mahar, a partner-owner of the Park & Shop on West State, voiced similar concerns to James Mahar's as well as reserved optimism.
Although he also has not been able to buy paper bags, he believes the plastic ban may be a step in the right direction.
“It’s going to take a learning process, and I’m sure it’s going to be hard for both us and the customers. But it’s probably the right thing to do,” Tom Mahar said.
Tops customer service lead Brandon Braker also spoke positively, saying the ban is likely a positive measure for the community and environment.
“Even though it may seem like a small step, every small step helps,” Braker said.
Braker predicted Tops will have to retrain cashiers to better handle paper bags and to ask customers how heavily they want their paper or reusable bags packed.
He also predicted some customers will not react positively to the ban, due to habit.
“It all comes down to laziness," Braker said. "We’ve grown so ingrained with these bags. When changes happen, it’s hard to accept.”
In New York State, over 23 billion plastic bags are typically used each year, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The goal of the new law is to reduce that number.
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