By Sabina Mollot
Last week, the City Council passed a bill that would impose a five cent fee on anyone who wants a plastic or paper bag to put their groceries in. New Yorkers on food stamps would be exempted, but otherwise the fee would be paid by consumers to the stores, rather than the city. The mayor is expected to sign off on the bill soon, which supporters have claimed will reduce plastic waste in the Big Apple by 90 tons a year.
Meanwhile, T&V polled residents of Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town on the issue, finding no shortage of arguments for and against the legislation (Intro 209-a).
One woman who said she uses a lot of plastic bags said she didn’t mind the bill. “If it’s good for the environment,” said Sondra Dagessar, as she sat with neighbors on a bench in Peter Cooper, “I’ll buy one of those special strong bags.”
Next to her was Ronnie Messer, who said she also didn’t mind the bill, pointing out that she carried around a tote bag that folded up to the size of a travel tissue pack. She’d bought it in Europe, where similar legislation discouraging the use of plastic bags has already been in effect. The only problem with this, Messer noted, is, “I forget about it and then I get a plastic bag (at the store).” Still, she added, “I guess I support it. We recycle.”
Another neighbor, Sophie Green, chimed in, “It’s expensive, but if it helps the environment, I don’t think it’s a bad idea.”
A few yards away from them, on the other side of the Peter Cooper fountain was a man who, as he sat reading, had several bags from Morton Williams on the bench next to him.
When asked for his thoughts on bill, Donald Meyers admitted to some mixed feelings.
But, he said, “I’ll go along with it. Every little bit helps,” he said, and while gesturing to the nearby plastic bags, added, “I have to be pushed on some issues, but I welcome the push.”
Meyers then recalled how at one time he would carry a large sack around to avoid using disposable bags, “but I kind of got out of that habit, because sometimes (when it was full) I would be lopsided.”
He also noted that he uses small plastic bags in a bin in his kitchen for non-recyclable garbage. “So how would you dump your garbage?” he asked.
Another resident, meanwhile, slammed the bill as “ridiculous.” The resident, a senior who asked that his name not be mentioned, said, “We buy a bag for five cents. What’s going to happen to that bag? Exactly what’s happening now. Whatever people were doing before they’re going to do it now. Why are they doing this? So the sharks don’t get strangled? Abolish it altogether. Don’t say I’ll give it to you for a nickel and you do what you want with it. Paper bags are the least (important problem) and (the Council is) worried about the fish? They’ve got to earn their $150,000.”
Meanwhile, two women who were out walking their dogs, said they supported the fee. Interestingly, the need for plastic bags to use to scoop up dog waste has been one of the arguments against the bill, but both said they use other bags specifically designed to collect Fido’s business.
“If it’s good for the environment I have no problem,” said Kelli O’Connor. Neighbor Lynn Fox agreed and added that she already brings tote bags to the grocery store.
“If I go without a bag I feel naked,” said Fox. She added that grocery store bags only work as poop containers for large dogs, anyway.
But another neighbor echoed the sentiment of many of the bill’s critics, blasting it as just another tax.
Stuy Town resident Diane Schindler said she would be especially hard hit because she uses grocery store bags to make her own sturdier, beach-style bags by shredding them into “plarn” or plastic yarn and then crocheting them. “I use a lot of bags,” she said, adding, “Nobody in my family throws them out.”
In agreement was her husband, John Schindler, who said, “Something like this impacts people not on food stamps but who don’t make a lot of money, like those with limited or fixed incomes. It hits them the most and that’s who I’m concerned about.”
Diane added, “The middle class gets squeezed.”
Meanwhile, giving the bill his support last week was Peter Cooper neighbor and Council Member Dan Garodnick. In an official statement on Monday, Garodnick explained his vote, to say that while initially skeptical, he eventually was convinced for the sake of the environment.
“Regardless of what you think of this fee – there can be no reasonable dispute over whether we need to correct a very real environmental problem that New York City faces,” Garodnick said. “These bags are, in fact, infrequently recycled, and often end up in our streets, storm drains and water sources.”