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OpinionEditorial

New York can reduce throwaway plastic items

A man carries his purchases with plastic bags.

A man carries his purchases with plastic bags. Photo Credit: Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In New York, the movement to bag throwaway plastic is getting serious, and it includes plastic bags.

The New York City Council is considering a ban on the sale of disposable water bottles in city parks. And on Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill that would ban disposable plastic shopping bags statewide.

Last year, state legislators blocked a law passed by the City Council to charge 5 cents for every disposable shopping bag. One of the reasons for the kibosh was the opposition of State Sen. Simcha Felder, the Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Republicans. Cuomo called a timeout and created a commission he said would report back with the right answer and proposed legislation. Instead, in a January report, that commission offered many potential answers but no suggestion.

Now with an election looming, Cuomo is acting.

Both bans and fees have worked elsewhere to reduce waste, with the bans working best. Cuomo’s plan, while a good start, does not include a fee for disposable paper bags, a crucial key to real change.

Scientists say plastic bags have killed at least 267 species of wildlife, including whales, seals, fish, turtles and birds. And they are just part of the avalanche of discarded plastic products saturating our oceans and waterways, killing animals and getting into the food supply of humans.

The oceans are full of plastic, with 8 million-plus tons added each year. Disposable straws — now banned at food and drink businesses in places including Seattle and Malibu, California — can be replaced by reusable metal ones. Plastic utensils and cup lids can be replaced by biodegradable ones.

Everything we do to trash the world will need to be cleaned up, or it will simply remain dirty. Both are bad choices. The sane option is, as much as possible, to stop manufacturing and using these non-biodegradable, single-use products.

Success on plastic bags and bottles would be a good start toward changing behaviors and reversing our throwaway culture.

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