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NEW YORK -- The plastic bag recycling bill passed this week by the New York City Council is being seen by many grocers in town as an inevitability for the city and several of them told Progressive Grocer yesterday that they have already implemented bag recycling programs in advance of the legislation.
"It's a sign of the times," Gristedes assistant to the chairman Matt Wanning told Progressive Grocer.
Although Wanning noted that he is usually "resistant to more government regulation," he agreed that such a bill was "necessary" for the city, which uses an estimated 1 billion plastic bags annually. "We have to get a handle on [the plastic bag problem,] particularly in New York," he said.
The legislation, which passed 44 to 2 and will take effect six months after Mayor Michael Bloomberg signs it, applies to stores within the city's five boroughs that use plastic bags and occupy 5,000 or more square feet or have more than five locations operating in New York City.
The bill will require store operators to provide an easily accessible collection bins for plastic bags in visible locations. Additionally, the stores will be required to use plastic bags that display the words "Please return this bag to a participating store for recycling" or a similar message as well as make reusable bags available for purchase.
The stores will also have to submit annual reports to the New York City Department of Sanitation on the amount and weight of collected plastic bags.
Grocers said they were able to work with legislators to keep the recycling program within the realm of the practical. "Our industry was able to work out a reasonable legislative solution in an effort to be environmentally responsible," Pathmark spokesman Rich Savner explained to PG.
"Pathmark piloted a program in Philadelphia in partnership with PennJerseyPaper and Goodwill Industries," said Savner. "We have had a favorable response [there], and the program is working well. It will be expanded to our New York City stores within the next month or two.
"Pathmark already sells reusable bags and offers rebates," Savner continued. "We also recycle plastic shrinkwrap in addition to bags, [which] reduces refuse pickup costs. An ancillary benefit is the work and revenue opportunities afforded Goodwill."
Pathmark is one of 750 members of the Albany, N.Y.-based Food Industry Alliance, which spearheaded retailer efforts to influence the New York City Council to come up with a bill that both sides could live with, Alliance v.p. of public affairs Patricia Brodhagen told PG.
Other members include ShopRite, Stop & Shop, and The Food Emporium. Many of the Alliance's members voluntarily collect plastic bags, Brodhagen said.
D'Agostino Supermarkets has been running programs designed to reduce the use of plastic bags.
"We have signage at each register advising our customers that if they choose a plastic bag, one is usually sufficient and it's how their order will be packed," noted D'Ag spokesman Anderson Chung. "If they would like double-bagging, they can request it.
"Our recyclable bags, which will continue the tradition of the iconic D'Ag Bag, will be in stores this March, and we're encouraging everyone in the city to get involved with our 'Go Green' student competition," Chung added. "We're asking students to design a Go Green D'Ag Bag that will be produced. This, too, is in keeping with the D'Ag Bag, which changes seasonally. Winning students will be awarded a cash stipend."
Retailers told PG they expected impacts from the legislation on the cost of doing business to be minimal at best.
"We don't believe the bill affects our business, as we believe it's important to listen to our customers and to give them a choice," said D'Agostino's Chung. "Our customers have requested recyclable bags, as well as the ability to select which bag they prefer. We've been listening and delivering."
"[The] biggest opportunity will be educating consumers about recycling and reusing bags," offered Pathmark's Savner. "That would actually help our stores, as we'd like to see a reduction in the number of bags used, since it helps reduce costs, which also benefits the consumer."
Brodhagen felt that the bill had the potential to have a positive impact on retailers and the city, as a "profit center" in a "best-case scenario." She added, however, that the organization is "just hoping for it to be a cost-neutral project."
One way of encouraging a positive dividend would be to spur consumer participation through aggressive promotions, an initiative that the city and retailers could work together on, said Brodhagen.
-- Bridget Goldschmidt