It's a small convenience that's becoming a big issue. As discarded plastic bags make their way into the environment, leaders in Tompkins County are considering taking drastic measures to combat the effects. Tamara Lindstrom tells us about a proposed ban on plastic bags.
TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. -- It's become a habit some don't think twice about: Buy an item, put it in a bag and take it home. But it's what happens down the line that has Tompkins County leaders targeting standard procedure and considering a ban on single-use plastic bags.
"Those are typically the bags, when you go to the grocery store and they say 'paper or plastic?'" said Gary Ferguson, Executive Director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.
Out of the store and often into the streets, waterways or the recycling center, where the little bags are a big deal.
"They do get stuck in equipment," said Tompkins County Solid Waste Manager Barbara Eckstrom. "The equipment has to be turned off, restarted, make sure it doesn't actually effect the bailing equipment or the conveyor lines. And also, it takes staff at the facilities to actually pull these materials off before they go into the lines. So it can be very costly."
But before all those discarded plastic bags were choking up the waste streams and creating environmental issues, some business owners say they were serving a very important purpose.
"Each business has a different need for bags," Ferguson said. "And the need for keeping fast food from dripping on you is probably very different from the need for keeping a $500 suit from getting torn or tattered and everything in between."
Not to mention easy advertising.
The Downtown Ithaca Alliance is helping small business owners who have some concerns about the proposed ban, like inconveniencing customers in an area that depends on tourism.
"If you're a local, I understand. I've got my reusable bags I can bring along to the grocery store. But if I'm a visitor, I don't necessarily have that," Ferguson said.
While the Solid Waste Division doesn't necessarily endorse an outright ban, Eckstrom says it's an issue that should be taken up.
"I think that we always want to prevent waste from being generated in the first place," Eckstrom said. "And I think that there are really good examples, stores that sell really good bags at a nominal price that could be made available."
That is, if customers can remember to bring them in.
Ferguson says so far, the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council has been receptive to concerns. Those plastic bags are recyclable, but have to be disposed of separately at a grocery store or the recycling center.