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NYS distributes reusable bags to help needy adjust to ban

James Brown

Keeping plastic bags out of landfills and the environment is the goal of New York State’s ban of the bags in grocery stores, but Foodlink’s CEO Julia Tedesco said there could be other consequences.

Now that single-use plastic bags are banned in New York grocery stores, the state is making one more effort to help everyone adjust.

“We are also acutely aware and have had concerns that it could have a negative impact on low-income households who might not be able to afford these reusable bags,” said Tedesco, who's organization provides food to food pantries across Upstate New York.

That’s one reason why state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos dropped off hundreds of reusable bags at Foodlink’s warehouse Monday. Seggos said at least 5,000 more are expected.

“This is a down payment,” said Seggos. “Right now, today. We didn’t bring the delivery truck, but we have bags flowing in."

He expects the DEC to pay for about a quarter-million bags to spread across the state. The plan is to spread them among food pantries and other places where the needy can access them for free.

It's part of an effort to ease the burden of the transition for all New Yorkers. Seggos said that no customers will be fined for using plastic bags, but stores eventually may be. 

"Once the stores are up to speed, we’ll focus on enforcement," said Seggos, “but for now, we’re in a ramp-up period, we’re in an education period, and that will continue for at least 60 days."

Seggos said he’s hopeful that a plastic foam container ban will be implemented next. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that proposal last year.

Paul D’Amato, director of the DEC's Region 8, said the state is giving $800,000 to Feeding New York State, a nonprofit network of food banks. Foodlink is getting about a quarter of that money. 

Tedesco said the money will be used for improvements to the agency's warehouse on Mount Read Boulevard in Rochester. 

“We’re distributing upwards of 20 million pounds of food to the region every single year," Tedesco said. "And so to increase that amount and divert good foods from landfills, those improvements are necessary.”

The Flower City Pickers, Trillium Health and YWCA are a few of the local agencies also receiving thousands in state grants to work on food insecurity. Statewide, 111 grants were given.

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