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New Yorkers should prepare for paper bag shortage when plastic bag ban hits


Paper or plastic? New York shoppers may soon find themselves juggling their groceries home.

A paper bag shortage is expected to hit the Empire State hard when Albany’s plastic bag ban goes into effect March 1, The Post has learned.

Retailers are allowed to offer paper sacks for five cents a pop at checkout — but they’re already having trouble stocking the gear due to a nationwide shortfall.

It’s a problem manufacturers say could last up to five years because there simply aren’t enough factories to meet the booming demand, as efforts to reduce environmentally unfriendly plastic bags increase.

“It’s a major issue,” Phil Rozenski, a spokesman for Novolex, one of several major bag manufacturers in North America told The Post.

“It’s so large that there are outages in the Midwest in trying to get supply to retailers.”

New York store owners say they’re working on short-term fixes, including stocking up on more pricey, reusable bags — but are bracing for backlash from customers when the ban hits.

The owner of two Key Food stores in the Bronx, Sal Bonavita, placed orders at the beginning of the year for both paper bags — which he has not offered for years — and reusable bags, but has not received them yet.

“I’m hoping to get some paper bags before March but I know I won’t have enough,” he said.

The grocer told his cashiers this week to warn customers to bring reusable bags in the future. There are also signs in his stores about the new law, but most of his customers are immigrants and he worries they may not be getting the message.

“I expect my customers to be surprised by this in March and our checkout time is going to soar,” Bonavita said.

The 30 Gristedes and D’Agostino grocery stores in the city ordered paper bags in December but have only received one case per store so far — which is “surprising,” owner, John Catsimatidis told The Post.

“Our supplier took the order but also warned us that there is a shortage of paper bags,” Catsimatidis said, “I assume that it’s an excuse for them to raise the prices now,” he guffawed.

The 16-store chain Morton Williams won’t offer paper bags because they are too expensive — at 13 cents a pop compared with 2.5 cents for plastic, owner Avi Kaner told The Post.

They’re also too difficult to procure, since “The [bag] industry is controlled by a handful of players,” Kaner said.

Most sturdy paper sacks with separate handles — like those offered at Trader’s Joe and Whole Foods — are already spoken for by some of the largest chains and not available to independent retailers, industry sources told The Post.

Those retailers locked into multi-year contracts with their suppliers in anticipation of the ban, sources said.

Kaner instead placed a “sizeable” order for sturdy reusable bags that Morton Williams currently sells for 99 cents. He also ordered other totes made from cotton and polyester that he hopes to offer for about 15 cents to 20 cents, or about his cost.

Still, Kaner is expecting his city-dwelling customers to be frustrated by the chain’s bag options.

“A lot of people don’t carry around reusable bags when they are commuting,” he pointed out. “It’s not like the suburbs where you have the bags in your car.”

It’s not just New York that’s suffering as other states and cities implement their own legislation aimed at plastic bags, including California, Oregon, Maine, Chicago, Albuquerque and others.

Portland, Oregon, based Fred Meyer stores — owned by Kroger — ran out of paper bags with handles in December, blaming the outage on a “supplier shortage” according to local reports.

Massachusetts-based Big Y supermarkets have also had difficulty keeping up with its paper bag demands, sources told The Post. The 77-store chain voluntarily switched to paper bags late last year. It did not return calls for comment.

Mom’s Organic Market of Virginia recently posted a sign in its stores for customers to bring their reusable bags as it was experiencing a “temporary” shortage of paper bags due to “plastic bags bans going into effect” across the country.

Walmart stores in Beaufort, South Carolina, ran out of paper bags just days after the county’s plastic bag ban went into effect in November 2018, according to reports.

But the New York state legislature only held its first hearing on the matter on Monday — almost a year after its law was passed.

The Empire State ban goes farther than any other in the country in that it does not allow retailers to offer thicker reusable plastic bags — and it requires them to collect a 5-cent tax for paper bags.

Novolex’s Rozenski was among scores of industry experts who attended the hearing to alert lawmakers about the problem.

Novolex estimates that New York will require 4 billion bags — or 52% of all the production capacity in North America to comply with the new law.

Put another way, New York will have a shortfall of about three billion bags which could last up to five years until new factories are built, according to Novolex. There are currently 16 manufacturing facilities in the US and Canada.

“The New York law needs four or five factories that don’t exist today,” Rozenski said.

The plastic bag ban exempts certain uses including take out orders at restaurants, garment and garbage bags, as well as newspaper bags.

The New York agency charged with implementing the ban, the Department of Environmental Conservation, is weighing the public comments submitted at the hearing as it finalizes the regulation.

“We hope the regulation is at least delayed,” said Bonavita, the owner of the Key Food stores.


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