Plastic Bag Hypocrisy

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette.

To the editor:
The growing use of plastic worldwide creates multiple problems, and plastic bags are one component of that problem. For that reason, reduction in plastic bag use is a legitimate issue of public policy. But legislation should not be necessitated by the hypocrisy of the members of our community, and that is what we have today in Croton. 

In the June 14/20 issue of The Gazette, 57 local businesses put their names on an ad in support of a law banning plastic bags in Croton. Yet many of those same businesses are continuing to use those same plastic bags. Croton businesses know what needs to be done to save our planet, they just refuse to stop using plastic bags till they are forced to do so under penalty of law.


Is it possible to be more of a hypocrite? Incredibly, the answer is “Yes.” Some of the Croton businesses who put their names in the advertisement not only continue to use plastic today, they would be exempt from the proposed law in whole or part.

Hudson View Dry Cleaner and Pircio’s Dry Cleaning would be exempt from the law—they will continue to use plastic and not have to charge a fee. Why? Dry cleaning plastic bags are the worst form of the plastic blight: they cannot be reused for trash liners or anything else. Dry cleaning itself is highly damaging to the environment, necessary though it may be. 

At very least, dry cleaners should be required to take back old bags for recycling, and a fee would be charged if the customer failed to bring in one old bag for each new bag. This is what we do for batteries, and given the damage which dry cleaners do to the environment it is reasonable to expect that Hudson View and Pircio do more than just sign petitions for legislation that will not apply to them.

Robbins Pharmacy and SavMor Pharmacy also signed the petition. Yet according to Jennifer Pauly of the Croton Climate Initiative (which ran the ad and collected the petition signatures) the law being proposed would only apply a fee requirement to “chain drugstores.” In other words, Robbins and SavMor are asking for legislation that would put a competitor (CVS) at a disadvantage. 

On what possible legal or moral basis should such hypocrites be given an exemption from the law? The reality is that this legislation is aimed at CVS and Shoprite, and none of us like “chain” stores. If the CCI is seriously concerned with the environmental crisis and not just seeking to codify an animus against big business, then why is CCI saying it is OK for SavMor to give out a free bag but across the street competitor CVS must charge for a bag?

And why are we exempting liquor stores? A pint of vodka is not an essential requirement for human existence. Why are booze and wine on CCI’s exemption list? Deprez, Old Post Liquors, and Van Wyck Liquors signed the CCI petition, but that is hardly a reason to exempt them. I was actually at Deprez recently and their staffer was telling me how great it was that Croton was going to ban plastic bags . . . at the very same time he and the other cashier were putting customer purchases into plastic bags

If people are going to spend $30 on a chardonnay, they can afford 10 cents for a bag. CCI does not want an exemption for poor people, but they want to exempt liquor purchases??? Ms. Pauly, if you are reading this perhaps you can explain CCI’s reasoning.

Chase Bank signed the petition. Nobody is going to take home a mortgage in a plastic bag, so Chase is pushing for a law that won’t affect it. However, Chase supported the Keystone pipeline—hardly a model of sustainable energy. In addition, between 2014 and 2016 the bank loaned $3.1 billion to producers of oil from tar sands. So the next time you stop in to our Croton Chase bank branch, thank them for their virtue signaling on plastic bags at Shoprite but then ask them when JPMorgan Chase is going to stop funding companies that destroy our environment.

I am pleased to see that Mark Franzoso and Nancy Kennedy put their names in the advertisement. They are leading members of our Croton community and their concern for the environment is admirable. But I doubt many people are carrying away roofing tiles or a charming Tudor in a plastic bag. What Mr. Franzoso and Ms. Kennedy could do is to convert their fleet of vehicles to an environmentally-friendly alternative. They do short local driving, which is the ideal use for an electric vehicle. And their businesses are in highly visible locations—imagine the positive image of Croton if people driving past saw their parking lot full of EVs.

J&S Taxi also put its name in the advertisement. I appreciate J&S’s concern for the environment, but I also know that it has a fleet of old gas guzzlers. More to the point, both J&S and other taxi companies have reserved spots at the Croton train station. Almost every time I am at the train station, I see taxis idling with their windows up to keep a comfortable temperature inside a vacant vehicle. The Board of Trustees can deal with this problem, although I would hope that J&S will take the lead without need for government action.

To be fair to J&S, it is customary for both taxis and Croton residents to keep their vehicles idling while waiting at the train station in the evening. It is also—umm—illegal under Westchester law, and has been since February 2009. 

The Village of Croton can and should amend Chapter 215: pass a better idling law than the weak county law. At very least the Village can start enforcing the county law. Today. 

The existing idling law on the books provides that it may be enforced by law enforcement officers and also “parking enforcement agents if authorized by the municipality to issue appearance tickets.”

Idling vehicles not only increase carbon footprint, they spew pollutants into our Croton air. Idling vehicles create elevated levels of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide. Those pollutants increase risk of asthma, heart disease, and cancer. And yet, our environmentally-aware Croton community still drives down to the train station each day and lets our thirsty SUVs burn gasoline and pollute our air as we wait to pick up our spouse or child.

Spend some time down at the train station with your windows open and I think you will agree that it is time for Croton to take action. Croton should pass a strong law such as the one NYC has, but in the meantime it can enforce the existing county law at no cost since the Croton parking enforcement agent is normally at the train station in the evening anyway.

The CCI also seeks to exempt “gift shops” and “specialty stores.” So a business like Sunshine and Clover or the Black Cow (which both signed the petition) would be exempt. Why is a tchotchke that I buy from one of those businesses worthy of an exemption from the bag law?

Newspapers are also on the “exceptions” list of CCI. But newspaper bags are useless except possibly for people who need to pick up after their dog. In Croton, the New York Times print subscription is $16.26 per week. Why can’t that person pay 70 cents per week for their bags? 

A baby dolphin choked to death on a yellow Shoprite bag is every bit as dead as a baby dolphin choked to death on a blue Times bag. We all love the Times and hate Shoprite, but the dolphin is less discerning.

CCI does grant some concessions for meat and produce. The New Castle legislation which the Croton Board of Trustees wishes to copy also has exemptions for ice cream and bakery goods. So both Baked by Susan and the Blue Pig (which signed the CCI petition) would be exempted. Why? Meat and dairy are huge contributors to global warming, and destructive of the natural environment to boot.

Environmental damage from cow farts has become something of a running joke over the past decade. Actually cow belches and manure seem to be more of an issue than farting, but whatever the orifice, cows produce a lot of methane. While methane is much less prevalent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it is the methane which is far more damaging per unit emitted. Meat must be kept refrigerated on that long truck ride from the slaughterhouse to your table. Ice cream must be kept frozen—it is about as environmentally-destructive a food as exists.

I have nothing against a good porterhouse or a pint of rocky road, but if we are serious about environmental damage it is hard to justify why these luxury items are exempted from the bag law.

The biggest loophole in the proposed law is exemption of plastic garbage bags. The CCI lectures us that “Lining your wastebasket with a plastic bag is not ‘recycling’ it.”

Let us assume that CCI is correct, and that re-using our Shoprite bag for garbage does not purge it of its unacceptable birth as a chain-store plastic bag. Why should we exempt the thick Hefty bags? If the problem is with both production and use of plastic bags, then using a bigger and thicker plastic bag for one-time use cannot be less environmentally-damaging than using a thin Shoprite bag twice.

Talk is cheap, as evidenced by the number of Croton businesses who advertise their opposition to plastic bags while continuing to use plastic bags every day, or who want to impose a law on other people so long as their business gets an exemption.

I tried looking for alternative garbage bags, and the best I could do was a box of bags that Mrs. Green’s in Briarcliff had for sale. The outside of the box looked like it would bring a smile to the face of Rachel Carson. But when I read the fine print, it said the bags were composed of a layer of recycled plastic sandwiched between 2 layers of “virgin plastic.” Much as I respect the virginity of Briarcliff Manor garbage bags, it sounds to me as though the expensive Mrs. Green’s product is actually more damaging to the environment.

I would appreciate hearing from Ms. Pauly as to what alternative she has found. Croton should not exempt Hefty-type plastic bags from the law, however virginal they may be.

There are 2 laws common in other communities which Croton does not have. The first is a law against idling vehicles, as discussed above. The second is a law mandating recycling of commercial and residential waste.

Many Croton residents have lived in NYC, and are familiar with mandatory recycling. NYC has more strict requirements (and enforcement, with monetary penalties) for business recycling and for multi-family housing. In Croton, we don’t even have a requirement for businesses to recycle. The next time you walk into a business, ask them where they put their trash. If they don’t have separate bins, ask them why.

I think it is terrific that 57 businesses in Croton agree with CCI that we need to pass laws to promote environmentally-conscious behavior. That level of public support from our business community means that they will also step up and support Croton enforcing a mandatory business recycling program.

Talk is cheap, as evidenced by the number of Croton businesses who advertise their opposition to plastic bags while continuing to use plastic bags every day, or who want to impose a law on other people so long as their business gets an exemption.

CCI notes that over 1,000 residents have signed the petition. Since there are only about 2,300 households in Croton, that means that a significant percentage of Croton households want plastic bags banned. The next time you walk in to a Croton business, ask if they have signed the bag ban petition. If they have, ask them if they have stopped using plastic bags. And ask if that business has separate bins for recycling, and if they are using electric or hybrid vehicles for their business.

Croton should pass the ban, with zero exemptions. It is illogical to hold that plastic bags are an existential threat to our oceans and that paper bags are environmentally damaging, while at the same time granting exemptions for liquor, dry cleaning, and moo shu pork takeout.

Paul Steinberg