“Paper or Plastic?” The Plastic Bag Ban Makes the Choice For Us
Pictured Above: Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tweet regarding the plastic bag ban.
The omnipresence of plastic bags has become integral to the experience of walking in New York City. Plastic bags constantly pollute sidewalks, occupy landfills, and cause damage to wildlife. In response to these issues, how to deal with these bags has become a hot topic. Especially at Packer, a school that prides itself on sustainability, attempting to reduce plastic usage has become part of our community’s goals.
Recently, in response to governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, New York state has decided to enact a ban on plastic bags by March of 2020, with a few caveats. Food takeout bags (used by restaurants or chains), bags used to wrap deli or meat counter products, and bags for bulk items will be excused from the ban. In place of plastic bags, cities or counties can chose to provide paper bags at a five cent additional cost to a customer’s purchase.
As with any new law, it is important to think of the financial repercussions of the ban. One of the leaders of Earth Club, Anna Simmons (‘20), grappled with the financial implications, saying, “Global warming and climate change is affecting minority groups, and it is not affecting the one percent. It is affecting the people who are lower down on that economic scale. Adding that five cent ban is not going to solve the problem.”
Another Earth Club leader, Liv Furman (‘20), hopes to create a solution to the ban targeting lower income communities. “I hope we can come up with a way to provide lower income communities with a reusable bag that they can bring with them to grocery stores. That would be awesome. I will try to get Earth Club to work on that.”
While this ban might negatively affect lower income communities, the third leader of Earth Club, Ray George (‘19), believes that this ban will have very little impact on Packer students. “I have not heard much conversation surrounding the plastic bag ban, because, frankly, I do not think that it will affect people’s lives that much. Packer kids, by in large, are in a point of privilege where they will not notice the extra nickel they are spending.”
Liv agrees that the ban will have very little effect on Packer students financially. “I have seen Packer kids drop a nickel and not pick it up; [adding five extra cents for a paper bag] is the same thing.”
Another student dedicated to the Earth, Eli Harrell (‘20), speculates that Packer students often contribute to the problem the ban is trying to solve; Eli theorizes since Packer is a more affluent community, we consume more goods, which generally leads to increased amounts of waste. “I just see everyday, at break people going and getting disposable cups of coffee, or bags from going out to lunch,” observed Eli.
Currently, meaning prior to the enactment of the plastic bag ban, New York has very few laws in place to address sustainability. However, Packer, in an effort spearheaded by Earth Club, has tried to create a more sustainable system for dealing with waste. From the addition of a composting program, to “No Cup Tuesdays,” Packer has in many ways tried to advocate for ‘zero waste.’
While these systems may be in place, Upper School French Teacher Adele Saint-Pierre, a faculty member committed to sustainability, questions how efficacious these systems are. “I wish Packer was a little more draconian about our environmental reduction of waste policies. We do have all these things to bring our waste down, but I am not sure to what extent we are effective.”
While many students are sustainability-minded and dedicated to reducing plastic, that intellectual devotion to the Earth does not always translate into action. These students who may not give as much thought to recycling and their plastic usage often ask, ‘Why does one person’s actions matter?’
Bella Pitman (‘21) answered this question: “Yes, some people argue that one person does not make a difference. But, if you [try to be sustainably minded] over a long period of time, think of how many cups you could save from the landfill, or how many plastic bags you could save.”