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Wegmans to charge paper bag fee even without local mandates

Brennan Somers
Updated: January 06, 2020 12:25 PM
Created: January 06, 2020 09:01 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Wegmans has announced it is removing all single-use plastic grocery bags from New York stores on Monday, Jan. 27. The move comes a little more than a month before a statewide ban takes effect in 2020.

Starting March 1, apart from just a few exceptions, those single-use plastic carryout bags we all get from grocery stores will be banned in New York state.

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The plastic bag ban got tossed around for years before it finally passed in 2019. Supporters say the law is needed to save the environment in a state where some 23 billion bags are used annually.

Anyone or any place required to collect a New York sales tax will be barred from issuing single-use plastic bags. Local cities and counties can opt-in to mandate a five-cent fee on paper bags handed out at stores, but that hasn’t happened locally.

New Monroe County Executive Adam Bello offered his position in the following statement.

"I believe strongly in the need for our community to lead the way in environmental protection and taking steps to mitigate the effects of our changing climate. The state ban on the use of plastic bags that will go into effect in the coming year is a step in the right direction. However, I have no plans to introduce the optional paper bag fee that accompanies the measure. While I’m in favor of efforts to encourage the use of reusable bags, adding another fee is not the right way to go about it."

So if lawmakers skip out on putting a paper bag fee on the books as a mandate, can companies charge for them anyway?

That answer is yes. But will any do it? What about deliveries?

In its press release, Wegmans also announced that at stores where local lawmakers do not impose a 5-cent fee for paper bags, the company will charge 5 cents per bag.

The money picked up from that charge will be donated to food banks in the store’s region.

Tops is looking at what retailers are doing in other states and cities while also thinking about what's best for the environment.

Delivery service Instacart says it will keep working with partners to follow all local bag rules for deliveries as they are bagged in-store.

Early on Wegmans was a big critic of the plastic bag ban. Back in 2018, a Wegmans spokesperson released the following statement.

"It has long been Wegmans’ position that unintended consequences come from banning anything," adding that a statewide plastic-bag ban would "likely lead to an increase in the use of paper bags, which is not what’s best for the environment. Paper bags are heavier and take up more space; it takes seven tractor-trailers to transport the same number of paper bags as plastic bags carried by one tractor-trailer. It also takes about 90 percent more resources and energy to make and recycle paper compared to plastic."

It has since tried to get in front of this change, by getting rid of plastic bags at two stores in Corning and Ithaca during a trial run promoting reusable bags.

“By adding a charge for each paper bag, our hope is to incentivize the adoption of reusable bags, and in time, achieve our goal of eliminating all single-use bags,” said Jason Wadsworth, Wegmans' packaging and sustainability manager. “This approach has proven successful at our two-store pilot. On average today, 20% of the bags used across all Wegmans stores are reusable. However, at our pilot stores in Corning and Ithaca, we’ve flipped that statistic so that only 20% of the bags used are single-use bags.” 

Any local cities or counties that do decide to opt-in and charge the fee for paper bags will get keep two cents for each one and the state will keep the other three cents.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation says stores in areas with no paper bag fee mandate are free to sell paper bags to customers and keep the revenue.  In those cases, the bag would be sold as a taxable item.

A Wegmans spokesperson says the paper bag fee will not apply to pickups or deliveries.


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