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LI shoppers cope with plastic bag ban

Customer Michelle Freeman Harrison of Baldwin, left, and

Customer Michelle Freeman Harrison of Baldwin, left, and store associate Seanna Brown exchange disposable plastic bags for a reusable bag on the first day of the plastic bag ban at Stop & Shop on Atlantic Avenue in Baldwin on Sunday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

The first day of shopping without the plastic sacks that are ubiquitous in stores and the environment came and went Sunday with many Long Islanders appearing to be taking the change in stride.

The state law banning single-use plastic shopping bags went into effect on Sunday throughout New York State.

“I started using my own bags before this was enacted,” said Michele Freeman Harrison, as she entered Stop & Shop in Baldwin on Sunday afternooon.

“I think it’s a good idea and will help with the environment,” said Harrison, 50, of Baldwin, noting how plastic bags have harmed wildlife, especially in the water. “We are killing animals and causing water pollution. It’s just bad.”

The law bans plastic carry-out bags from any store that collects New York State sales tax — supermarkets and other retail shops. Customers can bring their own reusable bags or pay five cents for a paper bag in municipalities that have adopted a carry-out bag reduction fee.

There are some exemptions such as bags used by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs and produce bags for bulk items, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

The ban will not be enforced until after April 1, leading some merchants to continue offering plastic bags in an effort to deplete their inventory.

Store associate Seanna Brown, 21, of Baldwin, traded her Stop & Shop cash register for an information table on Sunday, as she explained the new law to shoppers at the store entrance, and offered free reusable bags to people who turned in their old plastic bags.

Many brought their own bags, while others purchased reusable totes or brown paper bags at the register.

“It’s a mix,” Brown said of the reaction she received from shoppers. “There are customers who are prepared and those who aren’t. But most people are happy. I like that. It’s a good energy.”

Chris Hart’s wife sent him to Stop & Shop with an armful of used plastic bags with the hopes he could trade them in for several reusable bags. When he realized it was only one bag per customer, he offered them to other people.

But he and others said they had doubts about the ban.

“People are going to be walking out of these stores with these bags and you won’t know whether or not the items are paid for,” said Hart, 61, of Oceanside who worked in the security business.

“I think these are unsanitary,” offered Anthony Iorio, 76 of Baldwin Harbor.  So now we’re bringing in an unsanitary thing here and God only knows what other people are carrying in.”

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizen Campaign for the Environment, noted that similar bans have been enacted around the world.

“This is going to be frustrating and inconvenient at first and then everyone will make the transition,” Esposito said. “Protecting the earth may not be convenient but it is worth doing.”

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