Nearly one year after New York became the second state in the nation to pass a ban on grocery store plastic bags — the law is going into effect on Sunday.
In accordance with the budge bill passed last year, New York State retailers will be banned from doling out single-use plastic bags, starting on March 1. California and Hawaii already have their ban in place and now New York is one of eight states inching toward implementing the ban, as Gothamist reported.
Some New York municipalities will also charge a five-cent fee for people who want a plastic bag, though that fee will be waived for customers using food stamps to make their purchases. The five cents will be used as a tax, with two cents going to local governments, and three cents going to the state's Environmental Protection Fund, as the New York Post reported.
The governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, tweeted when the ban was first set to pass, "Plastic bags have blighted our environment and clogged our waterways. By banning them, we will protect our natural resources for future generations of New Yorkers," as EcoWatch reported.
Now Cuomo is looking forward to seeing the bags gone.
"It's no doubt that this is smart; you see these bags all over the place," Cuomo, who added that the bags hang in trees like "bizarre Christmas ornaments," said as WRVO Public Media reported. "I've been 30 miles out in the ocean and you see garbage floating and plastic bags floating. It's terrible."
The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has recently increased its efforts in recent days to help New Yorkers understand the new rules. The department has run ads on social media and videos on its website and YouTube channel, according to WRVO Public Media. The DEC is also distributing 270,000 reusable bags to low and middle-income families to help them ease into the transition.
The plastic bag ban will apply to all retailers that collect sales tax, including grocery stores and bodegas. The DEC claims that currently more than 23 billion plastic bags are used each year and only for 12 minutes, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, as the New York Post reported.
There are exceptions to the ban. According to Gothamist, plastic bags can still be used for:
- Uncooked animal products or other non-prepackaged food
- Flowers, plants, or other items that require plastic to avoid contamination, prevent damage, or for health purposes
- Bulk packaging of fruits, vegetables, grains, candy, hardware products like nuts, bolts, and screws, live insects like crickets, fish, crustaceans, mollusks, or other items that require a waterproof bag
- Sliced food or food prepared to order
- Newspapers for subscribers
- Prepackaged plastic bags sold in bulk, such as garbage bags, sandwich bags, or bags used for pet poop pick-up
- Dry-cleaner or laundry service clothing bags
- Pharmacy bags for prescription drugs
While the law goes into effect on Sunday, the DEC will actually not enforce it for a few more months as stores and customers adapt to their plastic bag-free shopping. Once it does enforce the law, retailers violating the ban will first receive a warning, followed by a $250 fine, leading to a $500 fine for subsequent violations in the same calendar year, as Gothamist reported.
Environmental advocates are pleased with the ban, but worry about a loophole that allows for thicker types of plastic bags. While they are not yet commercially made, environmental advocates worry the plastic bag industry will start to manufacture the thicker type of plastic bags.
"It was most unfortunate," Judith Enck, who runs Beyond Plastics at Bennington College and worked at the EPA under President Obama, said to WRVO Public Media. "Why even open the door to that?"
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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