Environmentalists Ignore “The Unintended Impacts of Policies”

(p. A1) Nicole Kramaritsch of Roxbury, N.J., has 46 bags just sitting in her garage. Brian Otto has 101 of them, so many that he’s considering sewing them into blackout curtains for his baby’s bedroom. (So far, that idea has gone nowhere.) Lili Mannuzza in Whippany has 74.

“I don’t know what to do with all these bags,” she said.

The mountains of bags are an unintended consequence of New Jersey’s strict new bag ban in supermarkets. It went into effect in May and prohibits not only plastic bags but paper bags as well. The well-intentioned law seeks to cut down on waste and single-use plastics, but for many people who rely on grocery delivery and curbside pickup services their orders now come in heavy-duty reusable shopping bags — lots and lots of them, week after week.

While nearly a dozen states nationwide have implemented restrictions on single-use plastic bags, New Jersey is the only one to ban paper bags because of their environmental impact. The law also bans polystyrene foam food containers and cups, and restricts restaurants from handing out plastic straws unless they’re requested.

Emily Gonyou, 22, a gig worker in Roselle Park who provides shopping services for people (p. A11) through Instacart, said she was surprised when she learned the delivery company had no special plans for accommodating the ban. “They pretty much said, ‘OK, do exactly what you’re doing, but with reusable bags,’” she said.

Ms. Gonyou said she goes through up to 50 reusable bags a day, many of which, she suspects, could end up in the garbage.

Compared to single-use plastics, the more durable reusable bags are better for the environment only if they are actually reused. According to Shelie Miller, a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability, a typical reusable bag, manufactured from polypropylene, must be used at least 10 times to account for the additional energy and material required to make it. For cotton totes, that number is much higher.

. . .

Dr. Miller said the bag situation in New Jersey was emblematic of a lot of environmental policies. “If we don’t pay attention to the unintended impacts of policies such as the plastic waste ban, we run into the potential of playing environmental Whac-a-Mole,” she said. “We solve one environmental problem only to create or exacerbate another problem.”

For the full story, see:

Clare Toeniskoetter. “New Jersey Bag Ban’s Unforeseen Consequence: Too Many Bags.” The New York Times (Friday, September 2, 2022): A1 & A11.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 1, 2022, and has the title “Why Do Some People in New Jersey Suddenly Have Bags and Bags of Bags?”)

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