On Sunday, a ban on plastic single-use bags took effect in New York and shoppers were none too pleased. They shouldn’t be. 

Banning plastic bags is costly for lower-income shoppers and an inconvenience especially for the elderly. Dirty reusable bags are also a breeding ground for bacteria. They can cause virus outbreaks and deaths from food-borne illnesses. Not to mention, plastic bags make up a minuscule amount of the visible litter nationwide.

So why is New York doing this again? 

Perhaps it’s easy to support an idea until it directly affects you.

Officials like Mayor Bill de Blasio claim it’s an effort to reduce waste and help the environment.

Now, anyone shopping at a grocery store in the state of New York will have to pay for paper bags or bring their own reusable canvas or polyester bags. New York City implemented a similar ban.

This apparently came as a big shock to customers across the state.

Yet, nearly two out of three (62 percent) New Yorkers supported the idea of banning plastic bags in grocery stores according to a Sienna College poll conducted last year.

Perhaps it’s easy to support an idea until it directly affects you. 

New Yorkers who were interviewed expressed that sentiment such as 37-year-old David Klar who said:

I’m not happy about what it does to the environment, but at the same time, what it does to my environment if I don’t have them is a nightmare.

Others expressed worry for the elderly struggling with heavier bags or those who don’t have cars to transport their groceries and rely on the plastic bags like 53-year-old Constance Tripoli of Brooklyn: 

“This is nonsense. I ain’t got no SUV like the mayor to take my groceries home. I told them I needed bags, and they snuck me a few.” 

For now, grocery store owners may give out the bags to deplete their supplies but soon will face the long arm of the state’s environmental agency. The state plans to start enforcing the rule in April and slap shop owners with fines.

New Yorkers have officially joined the club of cities and states banning plastic bags. Lawmakers advertise these bans as a way to help the environment, but perhaps the real motivation is the revenue they collect from bag taxes. It’s an easy new funding source that, unfortunately, is most heavily borne by low-income households.

There are also health implications. As I explained when this proposal passed last year, people don’t tend to clean their reusable bags often enough or at all. As a result, they become receptacles for bacteria and germs that get passed onto the food items they transport. I’m sure the people who suffered sickness from an outbreak of norovirus because of a reusable grocery bag left in a hotel bathroom, would have a lot to say. In the three months after San Francisco banned plastic bags, the number of foodborne-illness deaths rose 46 percent. 

Also, who said plastic bags are single-use? Many people use them to line their bathroom garbage bins or scoop up dog poop. I wonder what they will use now? Perhaps smaller plastic bags.

Finally, the environmental impact is negligible. According to one comprehensive study, plastic bags account for just 0.6 percent of all litter.

For the serious health concerns, the cost, the inconvenience, and the minimal environmental impact, we have to ask if these plastic-bag bans are really worth it.