When a bill that would charge shoppers 10 cents for every bag they put their groceries and other supplies in at stores was introduced in the City Council last year, this page had many questions about how the measure — with its laudable goals of protecting the environment and reducing litter and the cost of garbage disposal — would actually work.
They were never answered because the measure never even got to the hearing stage. But now it’s back, and we have the same questions, plus a couple of new ones. The bill has more than twice as many co-sponsors as it did last year, and we’re assured there will be a hearing this time around.
So, elected officials and people of Queens, here goes:
• When you’re being rung up at the supermarket, is the cashier supposed to determine how many bags you’ll need before you pay, or will you have to be rung up a second time just to settle up on your use of bags?
• If you use the self-checkout, is someone supposed to watch to make sure you charge yourself for each bag used? And how could you ring yourself up, when bags don’t have bar codes?
• If you’re at, let’s say, The Home Depot, and you buy something sharp that puts a hole in your bag, so you run back to get another, are you supposed to get back in line to pay your dime? If you just take a bag, are you a thief?
• Since the city estimates that residents here use 5.2 billion of those ubiquitous plastic shopping bags each year, and merchants would get to keep the 10 cents they would have to charge for each, could the bill result in a $520 million windfall for businesses?
There’s no doubt these plastic bags damage the environment when not disposed of properly, clogging sewers, choking unlucky animals and getting caught in trees when the wind blows. Reducing their use, or at least ensuring they are recycled, is a worthy goal. It is better to utilize reusable bags made of canvas or heavier plastic — as long as they are washed often, because otherwise dangerous parasites can develop in them and make their way into your food.
But we’re not sure this dime-a-bag bill is the best answer, and we bet many people in Queens, including those store owners who might even profit from it, would agree. Certainly shoppers who could easily have to shell out another $1.50 or more for a week’s worth of groceries for the family have cause for concern. We look forward to a hearing that will answer all these questions, and others we’re not thinking of, before this bill is passed.