Grassroots group pushes for plastic bag ban

Plastic bag litter poses a problem, according to local advocates.

Edgewood residents Ines Rodrigues, Sandra Goldstein and Carmen Hall are on a mission to ban the use of single-use plastic bags in Scarsdale.

Their quest began late last year after Rodrigues watched a video in which a whale died with a large amount of plastic bags in its stomach. Rodrigues said the program gave her a nightmare.

The next morning she called her friend Goldstein and said, “We have to do something.”

Rodrigues, Goldstein and Hall, who have been friends and neighbors for about a decade, reached out to Mayor Dan Hochvert, who connected them with Conservation Advisory Council member Michelle Sterling to learn the process associated with getting a villagewide ordinance passed.

First, they must collect 5,000 signatures from local residents. Next, they must get the support, through additional signatures, of local merchants. Once they compile the necessary signatures, they will approach village officials with a request for an ordinance banning single-use plastic bags in retail stores.

So far, the team has gathered 250 signatures by attending community events, reaching out to friends and neighbors and asking Scarsdale High School students to help. They are also using change.org to gather electronic signatures. (Type “Ines Rodrigues” into the search bar on change.org to find the petition.)

Other Westchester municipalities, including Larchmont, Pelham and Hastings-on-Hudson, have banned single-use plastic bags, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is seeking a statewide ban as a part of his 2019 executive budget.

According to the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force’s 2018 report, single-use bags present a number of environmental problems.

They are derived from fossil fuels, they are a source of litter on land and in waterways, they are harmful to marine habitats and wildlife, and they are costly for municipalities and recycling centers in terms of time and money spent managing their disposal.

Further, per the report, “the increase in plastics production has been faster than that of any other manufactured material with an estimated 8.3 billion metric tons of plastics being produced as of 2015.”

A 2016 NBC News report also said purchasing single-use plastic bags costs American businesses up to $4 billion each year.

Although getting an ordinance in place is the ultimate goal, Hall told The Inquirer she believes creating awareness about the negative impact of plastic bags can help people begin to make changes in their shopping habits.

“The trick is basically we have to educate people,” Hall, a 20-year Edgewood resident, said. “A lot of people don’t realize [what is happening] and [the] cause behind it.”

Both Rodrigues and Goldstein are drawing from their own childhood experiences as they push for a plastic bag ban.

Rodrigues, who lived in Italy for 25 years, and Goldstein, a native of Germany, both said it is not often you see shoppers using single-use plastic bags in Europe. They said it’s more common to see consumers using canvas or reusable tote bags.

Rodrigues, a native of Brazil, said there are many places in Brazil where using plastic bags is not common.

The three women said they are aware of the adjustments ahead for both merchants and customers if a ban is put in place.

Susan Lockwood of Evandale Road, and the manager of Scarsdale Woman’s Exchange, 6 Harwood Court, said it’s “ideally a great idea,” but for a specialty shop like hers, it could be “enormously detrimental.” The Woman’s Exchange uses various sizes of decorative plastic sacks and colorful bows to wrap gift items.

“People love it,” she said. “It’s pretty and so easy for us as merchants to wrap.” She also said the high-quality plastic wrap “is so much less expensive” than paper gift bags.

Lockwood said she has noticed more and more merchants have reusable bags available for sale, including the Woman’s Exchange, which sells packable sacks made of rip-stop fabric that are easy to zip up and carry inside a purse, briefcase or coat pocket.

If a ban were approved, Lockwood suggested Scarsdale merchants should consider banding together to give out reusable bags during a preliminary transition period.

Lockwood said it’s difficult to remember to bring the reusable bags when shopping.

“I have three on the floor of my car, but half the time I forget,” she said. If she purchased only a few things, she said, she tells the merchant she doesn’t want a bag and then carries the items out in her arms. For bulkier purchases, she said she has to go back to her car to retrieve her reusable bag. Otherwise, she resorts to using the store’s single-use plastic bag and “feels guilty about it.”

Noelle Francis of Strathmore Road, a sales associate at 7-Eleven on Scarsdale Avenue, said she would support a single-use plastic bag ban. A few years ago, she said she would not have cared. But a trip to Arizona, where there was not a plastic bag in sight, made her aware of the issue.

“We need to take measures to clean up our act,” she said. “We all need to do better.”

She said she sees an opportunity for local businesses to create and sell reusable bags, and she hopes the 7-Eleven Corp. would offer an alternative like reusable loyalty bags. If customers do not have an alternative, she said, “we need to make sure to have what they need.”

Frank DeCicco Jr., co-owner of DeCicco’s Family Market in Scarsdale, said the managers spoke about eliminating single-use bags. They realize it would help cut down on garbage, but the grocery store chain is not planning a change.

For now, the store has a container outside in the parking lot where people can deposit plastic bags for recycling. A company picks up the contents, sorts out other trash and then sells the bags to a recycler.

“The bags do not end up in the landfill,” DeCicco said.

When the store managers interviewed customers, most said they understood the motivation for a ban. “But it’s hard to do it if it’s not forced,” DeCicco said. “You have to retrain people from what they are used to...years ago when there was a changeover from paper to plastic, people said ‘What would we do without the paper bags?’”

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