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Food Store Says New York's Upcoming Plastic Bag Ban Is No Big Deal

Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
Ron Royne, part-time cashier at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, and a sign outside the co-op reminding shoppers to bring their reusable bags.

New York’s ban on single use plastic bags at grocery stores and other outlets takes effect March 1, and stores that haven’t already made the change are gearing up for it. One food store has never offered its own plastic bags in its 40-year history, and they say no one has been bothered by that.

As you walk through the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, you’ll notice its emphasis on healthy foods. There’s nuts and grains of all kinds in its large bulk food section, organic ice creams in its freezers, and lots of vegan-friendly cuisine.

And the produce? Well, as the sign reads: “If it grows, we have it.”

On this snowy Tuesday morning, it’s fairly calm and quiet, but on weekends and before a holiday it is jam packed with shoppers.

All of the shoppers here, for decades, have either brought their own bags, paid a small fee to use a paper bag, or taken their groceries home in one of the used delivery boxes that are piled high in the front of the store.

Alex Mytelka, marketing manager, has been with the co-op in various roles for six years. He says the store supports the plastic bag ban. But he says there won’t be a big transition.

“We’re lucky that over half of our shoppers are already using reusable bags,” Mytelka said. “We sell dozens of different kinds. It’s kind of a normal thing here.”

The Co-op has not always been completely free of plastic bags. Old timers remember a period in the 1980s where members brought in plastic bags from other stores. But that practice has long since been abandoned.

Ron Royne works part time as a cashier. He’s checking out groceries for Marsha Larabee, who works as a volunteer member in the bulk foods department in exchange for a discount on her purchases. The store has various policies to try to encourage the use of reusable bags.

Shoppers receive a 5 cent credit for each bag they bring in and use. They can get that amount taken off their bill, or get a token, worth a nickel, to donate to a variety of charities.   

Larabee says she’s used her own cloth reusable bags for years, and she’s happy about the new plastic bag ban. But she doesn’t think the transition is going to be easy for everyone.

“I think it’s going to be hard, it’s a whole new mindset,” said Larabee, who said “big major grocery stores” will have a problem.

“This is going to be probably the easiest store in the area because we’ve been on that bandwagon for a long time,” she said.

Many chain grocery stores in New York have been publicizing the change, offering discounts on reusable bags, and even in some cases, banning plastic bags early, before the law takes effect.   

The Co-op is also trying to encourage shoppers to not just switch to paper bags as an alternative. Recently, the store upped the price of paper bags to 15 cents. Alex Mytelka, the marketing manager, says people are already using them less.

He says someday he’d like to phase them out, too. But for now, they are staying.

“We don’t want to not have something available for people,” he said.

The author is a member shopper at the co-op, but does not currently have anything to do with its inner workings.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.