Plastic bags.

Plastic bags. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Saving the planet one plastic bag at a time.

That was the goal when New York passed a law banning single-use plastic bags like those used in supermarkets, delis and for takeout food.

The bags, we were told, take forever to break down in landfills, clog up the water system and otherwise pollute the environment. They're bad.

This law is the reason we have to remember to bring our own reusable bags to the supermarket when we go grocery shopping.

Very green of New York lawmakers, right? I'm sure plenty of them were patting themselves on the back for their work in protecting the environment.

The only problem is that the law has basically proven to be unenforceable and is pretty much being ignored by many businesses.

The City publication reported that an overall lack of enforcement has allowed many stores, including name retailers, to keep handing the plastic bags out with impunity.

It's been a blow to environmental advocates who want New York to stop using fossil fuel-based products.

Banning plastic bags, The City reported, was considered "low-hanging fruit" to these advocates, an easy enough thing to do that would pay big environmental dividends.

It hasn't worked out that way.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which was tasked with enforcing the ban, has conducted 389 inspections since April 4, 2021 and issued 117 warning notices, The City said.

That's not a lot of inspections over a nearly three-year period. Given the countless businesses throughout the state that could still be using these plastic bags, I don't think that that kind of enforcement has anybody quaking in their boots.

The agency has issued more than $75,000 in fines since the law went into effect, The City reported.

Most of the fines have been leveled against corporate, chain and franchise-type stores. Family Dollar Stores of New York got hit with the steepest, a $26,650 fine.

In other words, something akin to the price of doing business for a big chain.

Not that I blame the DEC for the lack of enforcement. They've got enough to do to protet the state's waterways, forests and other natural resources from polluters and illegal dumpers. They've got better things to do.

And they don't have the staff to go into every diner and bodega to sniff out illegal plastic bag distribution. It's like trying to stop underage kids from buying beer. You're just not going to get every offender.

And even if you did eliminate every single plastic bag, how much good with that really do anyway?

A walk through any supermarket will show you the huge amount of single-use plastic still in circulation, including bags for fresh fruit and vegetables, bags for frozen items and all that shrink wrap on various products.

As hard as environmentalists have tried, plastic isn't going anywhere. It's just too cheap and convenient.

By the way, those single-use plastic bags were never single-use for me. I re-used them all the time. Three years into the ban, I still have plenty of them and I still use them.

That's very environmentally friendly of me, I think.

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