NEW YORK—After state lawmakers approved a ban on most single-use plastic bags in the latest budget, some city officials are seeking to set a fee for paper bags in their localities‚ including in New York City.
By March 2020, residents across the state will no longer receive free plastic bags at the checkout at grocery stores or other retailers. The ban, which was proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in January, comes as part of the new $175.5 billion state 2019-20 budget announced March 31, making New York the second state behind California to have instituted regulations on plastic bags. Hawaii has essentially also done so, as all its counties have implemented plastic bag reduction laws.
Plastic bags blight our land and clog our waterways.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) April 2, 2019
Senator Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who sponsored the bill, said the days of single-use plastic bags are numbered for New York.
“The average American uses a plastic bag for about 12 minutes before discarding it, and that has left billions and billions of plastic bags in our environment, whether they’re in our waterways in our parks, on trees, many end up in landfills,” he said. “We have a plastic crisis in our planet … it’s a scourge we have to do something about.”
There are exceptions to the ban. Stores can still hand out plastic bags to carry takeout food, raw meat, and fish or meat from the deli. Plastic bags will also be allowed for prescription drugs, bulk items, dry cleaning, and newspaper deliveries, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.
Customers will still be able to buy trash bags and recycling bags, as well as plastic bags for food storage.
A 5-Cent Fee For Paper Bags?
As part of the ban, counties and cities will have the option to further mandate a fee on any paper bag that stores provide. According to Patch.com, it’s a move that at least half a dozen city council members intend to pursue.
Kaminsky said the goal is to have people move to reusable bags. “We want people to use reusable bags—a bag that you take home and doesn’t become trash … that’s what this law is designed to impact.
“I think obviously, when you impose a fee on something, it’s impactable,” he added. “I hope counties choose to do that, but we left the choice up to them.”
In January 2018, Suffolk County in Long Island decided to go ahead and adopt a 5-cent fee on both paper and plastic bags. In the first six months, grocery stores reported an 80 percent drop in the use of single-use plastic bags, according to a Food Industry Alliance survey of its members. The fee went straight to the stores to help them recoup their extra costs.
If the 5-cent fee goes ahead across the state, three cents would go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and the remaining two cents would go to the local government that mandated the fee, to help local programs purchase reusable bags for those on low or fixed incomes.
Council members Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) and Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) in New York City say they support a paper bag fee law.
In a statement released March 29, the two said that after the plastic bag ban takes place, shoppers were likely to simply switch to paper bags if no fee is imposed.
They say that paper bags also have adverse environmental impacts, as manufacturing and transporting them brings “significant … water and ground-level air pollution.”
They added that most paper bags would not be recycled and end up in landfill.
“We’re very happy that the state passed a ban on plastic bags, but we don’t want people to start using more paper bags,” Chin said. “We just really want to encourage people to use reusable bags when they go shopping.”
“The goal of this legislation is to not actually collect a single nickel,” Lander said during a press conference outside City Hall, according to the New York Post.
Concerns Over Fee
One local resident, Robby Collignon, said he doesn’t support a potential 5-cent fee.
“I’m supposed to carry bags around every day just in case I go to the store to buy something? It’s going to hurt [the stores],” Collignon said, saying that in his view, people may steer clear of buying items to avoid copping a nickel fee if they didn’t have a bag on them.
“People are going to go less often to certain stores, they’re gonna wait until they can get bags, and go when it’s more convenient to have bags with them, so smaller stores, I think, would miss out,” he added.
Another local resident, Juliet Germanotta, said that if the paper bag fee does go ahead, life would be more inconvenient for her. She suggested that the issue should be decided by a vote.
“I think [the decision to charge a fee] should be voted on by the citizens,” she said. “Or it should be left up to the businesses if they want to charge their customers money.”
New York Director of National Federation of Independent Business, Greg Biryla, told syracuse.com: “Every mandated cost increase adds up. Businesses are simply not able to absorb and adjust to new mandated costs the same as their big-box competitors.”
Several local residents who already use reusable bags told The Epoch Times that a 5-cent fee on paper bags would not affect them.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would support a fee for paper bags.
“We need to get away from paper bags,” he said, according to CBS2. “If a fee would do it, I could support that.”