On Plastic Bag Bans, From an Environmental Perspective

A couple years ago, a ban on single-use plastic bags came into effect in my home state of New York to much fanfare. Now that this ban has been theoretically[1] in effect in my home state for a couple of years now, and now that several other states and municipalities have enacted similar bans over the past several years,[2] I think it is time to honestly evaluate plastic bag bans from an environmental perspective.

I should start by saying that single-use plastics are not what I, or anyone else who cares about the environment, should advocate for. Environmental advocates point out that single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment in a multitude of ways, ranging from impacts on the climate to harming our wildlife.[3] A status quo of single-use, non-recyclable plastic bags (or single-use bags of any kind, for that matter) is simply not sustainable for ourselves, our fellow animals, or our planet in the long-term.

However, when one looks at the environmental impacts of reusable bags, the reality is more complicated than one may realize. Columbia University’s Climate School noted that bags designed to last longer “are made of heavier materials, so they use more resources in production and therefore have greater environmental impacts.”[4] Therefore, bags designed to be reusable need to be reused many times over in order to have a climate footprint equivalent to our traditional single-use plastic bag brethren—50 to 150 times for a cotton bag, 10-20 times for a durable polypropylene (PP) bag, and 5-10 times for a somewhat less durable but still reusable polyethylene (PE) bag.[5]

But, there is a catch—as the United Nations Environment Programme noted, in order to have cotton bags, PP bags, and PE bags with an equivalent environmental footprint to single-use plastic bags, people need to keep on reusing the bags, and the bags themselves need to be durable. Unfortunately, a problem that my family, as well as people around me, have run into is that some bags are not very durable and have a tendency to fall apart before using the bag the number of times we need to in order to make them even environmentally equivalent to single-use plastic bags. I know some people who have used certain reusable plastic bags at least once a week (if not more than that) for years now, in which case the bags they’ve used have ended up being better for the environment than single-use plastic bags. However, I also know some people who’ve seen reusable bags fall apart after being used only on a few occasions.

While I would still not advocate for single-use plastic bags, unfortunately the reality of reusable bags is that it is questionable whether they are better for the environment than the single-use ones. Before drawing conclusions about the overall environmental footprint of various reusable bags in relation to single-use ones, I would personally first like to see how long the average cotton bag, PP bag, and PE bag lasts. If they don’t last the requisite number of times to have an environmental footprint equivalent to single-use plastic bags, then perhaps our traditional plastic bags that we get (or used to get) at grocery stores, as bad as they are, may yet be better for the environment than the reusable bags we’ve resorted to in some municipalities and states.

I will leave my readers with one last thought, a thought that might actually be the inspiration of a future blog post: just because something is reusable doesn’t automatically mean that the thing is good for the environment.


[1] I say “theoretically” because enforcement on the ban has been shaky at best. Here’s a news story about these issues with enforcement: https://www.thecity.nyc/environment/2021/7/26/22595273/nyc-plastic-bag-ban-violators-getting-away-with-breaking-law

[2] The National Conference of State Legislatures notes the states and notable municipalities with various plastic bag bans and fees: https://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx

[3] https://www.nrdc.org/stories/single-use-plastics-101

[4] https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/04/30/plastic-paper-cotton-bags/

[5] https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/31932/SUPB.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Coronavirus Update From New York City: October 14, 2021

I hope that all of my readers are safe, regardless of where you are.

In personal news, just to pick up where I left off last week with my parents receiving a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine, I should note that they experienced some side effects that were reminiscent of having a mild case of the virus for a short period of time. However, after about a day or so passed, they felt much better. For those worried about side effects from the vaccines, whether it be with the first two doses or with a booster shot, I hope that this story encourages people to get vaccinated, because having mild COVID symptoms for a day certainly beats getting the real thing and struggling with the impacts of it for months, if not more.

The other good news in my part of the world is that the rate at which the virus is spreading is continuing to slow down. The rate is not slowing at quite the drastic rate that it is in certain other parts of the country, but once again, the the percent of people testing positive for the virus where I lived was paling in comparison to parts of the country with lower vaccination rates. Still, I’m glad that the rate of infection is decreasing, and am genuinely hoping that we have passed through the worst of the Delta variant. If we have passed the worst of the variant in New York, we have gone through it without having our hospitals completely overwhelmed–something that can’t be said for certain parts of the country.

The news is not all good, though: there are still real questions as to how we should all gather with our families for American Thanksgiving, which happens on the fourth Thursday of November. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not have final word yet on holiday gatherings yet, but early indications seem to be showing that outdoor gatherings are best (which would be quite cold in New York by late November, by the way), and that if you must do an indoor gathering, there are a variety of considerations that people will need to be mindful of, ranging from mask-wearing to social distancing to ventilation.[1]

Honestly, I’m not going to lie here–I really look forward to the day that we can gather with friends and extended family without all these different considerations with regards to the virus. But we’re not there yet. Hopefully, we will be there soon.


[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/10/04/1043020857/cdc-tips-for-celebrating-the-holidays-safely-covid

Advancing the Cause of Missing Black and Indigenous People

One of the things noted by some Black and Indigenous activists again and again in the case of the missing (now dead) young woman, Gabby Petito, was that there doesn’t seem to be the same attention on missing Black and Indigenous people that there was on Petito, a young white woman. And, while I don’t have any hard statistics in terms of the attention on missing people by race, I am hard-pressed to think of a time that a missing Black or Indigenous person got the sort of national attention for their cause that Petito got for hers (though if my memory is failing me, please let me know in the comments section).

Given the attention on this issue, I want to use this Indigenous Peoples’ Day to introduce my readers to organizations I came across that focus on helping Black and Indigenous people and their families. I’m going to highlight a few of these organizations, as well as links to their websites, below:

One organization that has received a large following for their focus on missing Indigenous people is Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA (MMIW USA). The organization’s focus is twofold: trying to play their role in bringing Indigenous people home while also providing support to the families of the missing and murdered. https://mmiwusa.org/

Some of the experts on the issue of missing Indigenous women link violence against them to a disproportionate number of them going missing.[1] Therefore, organizations dedicated to addressing violence against Indigenous women and girls, such as the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (https://www.niwrc.org/) and the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (https://www.csvanw.org/) are worth people’s support. Speaking of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, they have a page listing various regional coalitions also involved in the work of addressing violence against Indigenous women in their regions and/or tribes, for those interested in seeing this work also get supported at a more regional or even tribal level.

Another organization that has received a large following for their work with missing people of color in general is the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc. (BAMFI). Their work is particularly focused on trying to help find missing persons of color, bring awareness to the issue, and provide resources for families of said missing persons. https://blackandmissinginc.com/

There is a site called Our Black Girls that highlights the stories of mistreated, missing, and murdered Black women in the United States. While this seems to be more of a personal passion project for the person running the site than an organization per se, donations help keep this site (and its mission) going strong. https://ourblackgirls.com/

These are a few organizations and entities I found that are involved in the advocacy of missing Black and Indigenous people in the United States. I’m hoping that this post will at least introduce readers to some places pushing for causes that are worth greater attention and support.[2]

One other note I should make before ending this post was that I struggled to find that many entities focused on issues related to missing Black and Indigenous people (perhaps reflecting the relative lack of attention on this issue), so if you’re aware of any additional organizations involved in that work, please mention that in the comments section below.


[1] https://apnews.com/article/missing-in-indian-country-north-america-mountains-mo-state-wire-sd-state-wire-cb6efc4ec93e4e92900ec99ccbcb7e05

[2] If you’re wondering where to donate and where not to donate, not just here but in general, feel free to consult the blog post I wrote on this subject: https://blindinjusticeblog.com/2017/08/29/where-to-donate-and-where-not-to-donate/

Coronavirus Update From New York City: October 7, 2021

I hope all of my readers are healthy and safe, regardless of where you are.

I should start with a piece of good news, which is that both of my parents have now received a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine! Both of them were eligible for the booster shot, and both of them got it just yesterday. They both reported that getting the booster shot was a very quick process, as they encountered no lines. I can’t help but wonder if others are having that same experience, or if there are areas where there seems to be significant enthusiasm about getting the booster (for those who are eligible, of course).

Speaking of eligibility, I haven’t said anything about my getting a booster shot because I’m not eligible. The eligibility issue boils down to one fact: I got the Moderna vaccine, not the Pfizer. As soon as booster shots are authorized for the Moderna vaccine (assuming the Moderna booster shot does get authorized), and as soon as I am eligible for it (something I’m guessing will happen relatively quickly because of my being overweight), I look forward to getting one.

Speaking of vaccinations, the vaccine mandates are now in full effect for teachers and staff in New York City’s public school system. For all the panic over potentially not having the necessary substitute teachers in order to cover unvaccinated teachers on leave, there are 9,000 vaccinated substitute teachers[1] on hand to fill the slots of only a few thousand teachers who didn’t get their first shots by last Friday’s deadline.[2] At least in the New York City schools, life can, and does, go on without the steadfastly unvaccinated.

The numbers I’ve seen seem to indicate that there was a jump in vaccinations as the vaccine mandates came into effect for public school staff. In a matter of just three days, we went from having 90% of school staffers vaccinated[3] to 95% of school staffers vaccinated here in New York City.[4] Considering the jump in vaccinations when there were vaccine mandates for school employees, I can see why the city is now seriously considering mandates for some other groups of New York City employees, including firefighters and police officers. However, I can’t help but wonder what will happen in places where certain firefighters and police officers refuse to get vaccinated, because unless there’s something I’m missing, it’s not like there are substitute firefighters and police officers (unless we were to somehow get National Guard involved here as National Guard have been prepared to take the place of unvaccinated health care workers in New York). Though, perhaps I am wrong and someone can inform me. And perhaps there’s a lot more that needs to be hashed out with this potential vaccine mandate for police officers and firefighters.

Another piece of good news is that the rate at which the virus is spreading seems to be slowing where I live.[5] It’s promising news, and hopefully it is a trend that will continue where I am over the coming weeks. As far as I am concerned, the next potential hurdle to get through with this virus is Thanksgiving (the fourth Thursday of November, for those of my readers who aren’t from the United States), as that is a holiday where there tends to be major family gatherings. However, I certainly hope that we will be in good shape with COVID before then, and that the holiday won’t do too much to set us back with the virus.

There continues to be about 40% of ICU beds available in the New York City area.[6] I continue to remain immensely grateful that I do not live in a part of the United States, or the world, where it is difficult for patients who need ICU beds to get them. I’ve been hearing reports on the news that the state of Alaska is the latest place to go through these difficulties. That being said, I keep on reminding myself that what some of these places are going through now was what my part of the world went through in March and April of 2020.

That is pretty much the update from where I’m living. I’m happy to hear updates from others!


[1] https://newyork.cbslocal.com/2021/10/02/new-york-city-teachers-and-staff-face-5-p-m-vaccine-deadline-but-legal-battle-continues/

[2] https://www.silive.com/education/2021/10/amid-coronavirus-vaccine-mandate-nyc-needs-3700-substitute-teachers-report-says.html

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicholasreimann/2021/10/01/90-of-nyc-school-employees-vaccinated-ahead-of-mandate-taking-effect-de-blasio-says/?sh=6912d39176b5

[4] https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-health-new-york-education-new-york-city-bc516b3c5012bd31e8f9a83cb06de18f

[5] https://covidactnow.org/us/new_york-ny/county/new_york_county/?s=23891301

[6] Ibid.

What Is…Person-First Language?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. One such term is person-first language.

Person-first language puts a person before the label, which is often a diagnosis of a disability or a chronic illness. This stands in contrast with what one may call identity-first language, which puts the identity before the person without necessarily denying someone their personhood.

To show an example of how person-first language works (especially in contrast to identity-first language), my friend Joe has a learning disability.[1] When you use person-first language, you are talking about “Joe, who has a learning disability.” In contrast, with identity-first language, you are talking about “my learning-disabled friend Joe.” Here, the person-first language puts Joe before his label of having a learning disability, while the identity-first language puts his learning disability before his name.

The person-centered nature of person-first language (which I know sounds redundant) is why it is so popular among some. However, I offer a huge caveat: not everybody, even in the disability or chronic illness communities, prefers person-first language. As such, while it may be favored by some (including Joe, by the way), you shouldn’t assume that just because one friend with a chronic illness or a disability prefers person-first language means all people with chronic illnesses or disabilities prefer it.[2] In fact, since I’ve started getting more active in blogging and on social media, I’ve known some chronic illness and disability advocates who vocally express their desire not to use person-first language for them, for various reasons.

So, then, what should we do if some people prefer person-first language while others do not? Personally, I would strongly advocate listening to and prioritizing the desires of the individual you are with. In the case of my friend Joe, prioritizing the desires of the individual I am with means using person-first language. For a few of the aforementioned bloggers and social media people I have learned from, it might involve using something that’s not person-first language. But regardless of what those preferences are, what is important is to listen to the preferences of the family member, friend, coworker, or acquaintance (and if you’re not sure, asking that person). After all, it is that person who has experience with the disability or chronic illness they have, and it seems wisest to defer to the language we use for the person with that experience instead of imposing our own wishes and ideas upon others.


[1] Don’t worry; I got my friend’s permission to use his name here.

[2] Also, just as a general principle, I urge against the notion of thinking that any one person represents an entire group, whether that group is based on disability, race, religion, gender identity, or anything else.