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Earth Matters

Earth Matters: To market! To market! And BYOBag

Earth Matters focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living. This weekly series is brought to you by Maria Luisa Boutique and Strawtown Studio and Summer Play Camp at Blue Rock School and Dying To Bloom, a natural burial boutique for humans and pets. 
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by Susan Hellauer

If you don’t believe the daffodils, maybe the outdoor return of Nyack’s Thursday Farmers Market can convince you it’s spring. But this year’s al fresco revival is greener than ever, with the launch this week of Nyack’s BYOBag campaign.

This teachable moment got its start last fall when Nyack’s Mayor Don Hammond and Sustainability Coordinator Marcy Denker discussed a plastic bag law and educational campaign. “When you get to the discussion of banning single-use plastic bags, it really comes down to how you get people to bring their own bags,” Denker told Earth Matters. She saw the Farmers Market, with its supportive vendors, as the logical place to start. “They already work in communities that have plastic bag bans, so it’s nothing new to them at all.”

Nyack High School pitches in

But would Nyack’s merchants get on board with a BYOBag campaign? Denker enlisted about ten members of the Nyack High School Environmental Club to help canvass local businesses. “We haven’t surveyed every single store yet, but down in the core of the village, there is really strong support,” Denker said.

Environmental Club adviser Tom Perry has taught earth science at NHS for 28 years. “It’s great to see my students excited about working on something that’s good for the whole community,” he said. The club met last fall with Mayor Hammond, who also works as a substitute teacher at the high school. The members quickly agreed to get involved in the BYOBag effort. “He’s a big fan of students being involved in all sorts of environmental issues,” Perry said of Hammond, “because it’s their generation that will have to work this all out.”

We are excited about the opportunities to work with everyone to not just ban single use plastic bags, but to begin to change our habits as a community.   The conversations, interviews and actions will help set the stage for additional discussions to further Nyack’s sustainability agenda.                                      — Village of Nyack Mayor Don Hammond

Before signing on with Nyack’s BYOBag project, the Environmental Club students had already begun a campaign of their own, raising funds to produce recycled-cotton reusable shopping bags. Now, with the proceeds from those sales, they’ve created a new screen-printed reusable bag to give away for just a donation at this week’s outdoor market, Thursday, April 11, between 8:30-9:30a (with the permission of school administration). The students will also explain to market goers why BYOBag is important. And NHS Video Arts students will be on hand to document the action.

nyack high school environmental club tom perry

Members of the Nyack High School Environmental club with their new recycled-cotton shopping bags (designed by NHS student Julia Tscherne) available at the Thursday April 11 Nyack Farmers Market from 8:30-9:30 am. Left to right: Emmy Udry, Ramona Ross, Lucinda Carroll, Bridget Hold, faculty advisor Tom Perry, Thalia Tsakos, Julia Tighe, Tia Fischetta. Photo courtesy Lucinda Carroll

To fee or not to fee? That’s a local question

Nyack’s Sustainability Committee presented information last year to the Village Board about single-use plastic bag laws already on the books across New York State. They recommended Ulster County’s legislation, which includes a fee on replacement bags, as a good model. Meanwhile, the Rockland County Legislature passed a single-use plastic bag ban bill on March 19 by a vote of 14-3, and, as part of its 2020 FY budget, New York State has just enacted a similar ban to take effect in March 2020.

While the New York State ban does not require a fee for a paper or multi-use plastic replacement bags, it would not prevent individual municipalities from imposing one. The Rockland County bill does not require a fee either, and that’s why sustainability watchdogs like Marcy Denker have a bone to pick with bans like these. “The main thing about the Rockland County law we don’t like is the alternative of providing a paper bag with no fee, which drives up the use of paper bags,” said Denker. “If people aren’t bringing their own bags they’ll go home with a lot more paper bags, which have a big carbon footprint and use a lot of water to manufacture.”

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The Rockland County Executive’s office is assessing how the plastic bag ban passed by New York State as part of its 2020 FY budget will impact, or possibly preempt, Rockland’s just-passed single-use plastic bag ban, according to spokesman John G. Lyon. In a statement, County Executive Ed Day said: 

Over the years the dynamics of the use of these bags has become more and more defined. We conceptually support this proposal but must ensure that any requirements are properly funded and that the proposed Local Law does not have any unintended consequences. We will complete a full review and assessment within our allowable time [April 10] before making any decisions.

Do the right thing: BYOBag

With the interaction of the state and county single-use plastic bag ban laws still to be sorted out, the Nyack Village Board is not ready to act on a ban, according to Marcy Denker. But she knows that they are fully on board with the BYOBag outreach and education efforts you’ll see around the village between now and June.

What will the BYOBag campaign look like? Besides the Farmers Market outreach, you’ll see posters created by NHS AP Environmental Science students at Village Hall, Nyack Library, and elsewhere. You’ll also see signage at the counters of local businesses reminding people to bring their own bags.

Despite the less-than-perfect county and state “no-fee” bans, the plastic-bag-averse results of the NHS student surveys make Denker believe that Nyack residents and merchants will pitch in to support the switch to reusable bags . “The bottom line for us is that the BYOBag campaign is still very relevant, because there’s still the opportunity for merchants to be giving out paper or other kinds of plastic bags, and we just want people to bring their own bags,” Denker said. “We just have to change our habits.”

plastic bag ban environmental club

Co-presidents Lucinda Carroll (l.) and Julia Tighe (r.) show off the first reusable bags their Nyack High School Environmental Club created. Photo: Tom Perry

Learn more:

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Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique, Dying to Bloom, Strawtown Studio, and Summer Play Camp at Blue Rock School.


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Nyack People & Places, a weekly series that features photos and profiles of citizens and scenes near Nyack, NY, is sponsored by Sun River Health.


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