ITHACA, N.Y. — Starting Monday, July 29, the Wegmans store in Ithaca will stop offering plastic bags at the checkout lines. Customers can choose to use paper bags, but each bag will cost 5 cents. Shoppers are encouraged to bring reusable bags, the option less likely to wind up as landfill.

Wegmans in Ithaca. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)
Wegmans in Ithaca. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

The elimination of plastic bags is the pilot program ahead of the removal of plastic bags from all 46 Wegmans stores in New York state by March 1, 2020, as required by the recently passed state law. The Wegmans in Corning will get rid of plastic bags starting Monday as well.

The money from the paper bags will be donated to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier

Wegmans cited concerns for the environment as the primary reason for eliminating plastic bags, according to a press release from the company, as plastic bags can take anywhere from 500 to 1,000 years to decompose. Plastic also pollutes waterways, including Cayuga Lake.

In the press release, Wegmans said its goal is to have customers convert to using reusable bags. A recent Wegmans survey found that 95% of its shoppers already own at least one reusable bag.

In its Germantown, Maryland, store, where it’s required by law to charge 5 cents for paper and plastic bags, Wegmans said 65% of shoppers use reusable bags, whereas the New York state stores currently average 20%.

If customers don’t have reusable bags or if they forget them, the default option will be to use paper bags at 5 cents a bag. NPR reports that cities that ban plastic bags have seen a surge in paper bag-usage. But many studies also show that paper bags may be worse for the environment. Though paper biodegrades, paper bags require toxic chemicals, fuel, and water to be produced. Also, according to Wegmans, it takes seven tractor-trailers to transport the same number of paper bags as plastic bags carried by one tractor-trailer.

Locally, there has been support and consideration to ban plastic bags for years. The majority of local legislators supported the statewide effort to ban plastic bags, and a local resolution was in the works but was put on hold to see if the measure would pass in New York State. And, for the past year, a Waste Reduction Committee of the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council, which is a citizen advisory board on local environmental issues, studied options for a plastic bag ban for the county. In an October presentation, the Waste Reduction Committee calculated that Tompkins County residents could be using up to 36.4 million single-use plastic bags per year.

Becky Mehorter is an intern at the Ithaca Voice. She is a rising senior at Ithaca College with majors in journalism and Spanish.