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State distributes reusable bags to help needy adjust to ban

New York State DEC commissioner Basil Seggos
James Brown
New York State DEC commissioner Basil Seggos

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.

“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.

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,” said Seggos, “we’ll focus on enforcement, 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 dollars 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. 

“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.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.