A collection of plastic bags. Stores in Suffolk County are required by law to charge customers at least five cents for plastic bags. ANNIKALUDIN/FLICKR VIA CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Would you like a plastic bag for five cents?”

Students at Stony Brook University and the rest of Suffolk County will hear this when they purchase something at a grocery or apparel store. While hearing that there is an extra charge just to carry what you bought may be irritating at first and make things seem more expensive, this five-cent charge needs to be higher. I question if this new installment is actually effective towards its goal: reducing the amount of plastic bags being used by consumers.

The law became effective on Jan. 1, 2018, and it requires stores to charge customers a minimum fee of five cents on carryout bags provided at retail stores. According to the law, its purpose is “to encourage consumers to use their own reusable bags to reduce the environmental impacts associated with single use bags.” There is a huge patch of plastic debris found in the North Pacific Ocean, known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, double the size of Hawaii. This law can be seen as a start to reducing the amount of plastic bags being found in drains, waterways, roads and the ocean.
I believe it’s ridiculous to pay extra to carry stuff I just purchased. College apparel and food are already pricey enough — a Stony Brook University crewneck sweatshirt at Shop Red West costs $50.00 or more — so hearing that I have to pay an extra five-cents reminds me that more money is being spent. I personally never end up purchasing a plastic bag, and I usually carry my products in my hands or stuff it into my backpack.

Even though the charge is a smart way to make consumers not want to use plastic bags, I also believe five cents is too small a price to discourage plastic bag use and make a change. Five cents can be found pretty much anywhere.

“I think it’s good that we are charging for plastic bags, but five cents really isn’t enough, as it doesn’t do any damage to people’s wallets,” Kelsey Nelson, a freshman marine vertebrate sciences major, said.

Besides being a method to carry things, plastic bags can also be reused in creative ways such as for wastebasket liners. For consumers to really not want to purchase a plastic bag, I believe the law should be revised and the fee should be raised to at least a dollar, which will ensure consumers won’t spend money on plastic bags.

In doing this, I believe the number of reusable shopping bags being used will increase, which will ultimately have a better effect on the environment than plastic bags. According to Greener Ideal, an independent environmental news and green living publication, around 100,000 marine animals are killed each year as a result of plastic bag pollution, 46,000 pieces of plastic are found in every square mile of the ocean and it takes 1,000 years for one plastic bag to fully degrade. These statistics should make people rethink their environmental decisions and ask themselves: “Do I really need to use a plastic bag for this?”

While the five cent charge for plastic bags is a smart environmental idea, a rise in the fee for plastic bags would make this installment much more effective. Would you be willing to pay two dollars for a plastic bag?