New York, NY — New York City Council Members Margaret S. Chin and Brad Lander issued the following statement in response to the recent announcement that the New York State Legislature has agreed to impose a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags:
“The days of the plastic bags in New York are, at last, coming to an end. Now we’ve got to make sure we reduce bag waste overall and don’t just trade plastic waste for paper waste. We are committed to getting that done.
Sixyears ago, in the summer of 2013, we introduced legislation to impose a small fee on carryout bags, following what Washington DC, San Francisco, Seattle, Ireland, Israel, and so many other places have done, leading to huge reductions in bag waste, as shoppers overwhelmingly switch to reusable bags.
The City Council passed our law to adopt a 5-cent fee, voting 28-20 in the spring of 2016, but Albany had other ideas. The following year, Governor Cuomo signed legislation pre-empting New York City’s law. Two years, and about 20 billion plastic bags later, we are happy that the State Legislature and the Governor are finally taking action. At long last, our trees and storm drains won’t be clogged with plastic bags.
But the job, it appears, is not yet complete. In California, the state legislation banning plastic bags also included a statewide fee on paper bags as well. This fee is a good idea because it is shown to encourage the vast majority of shoppers — across lines of race, class, age, family size, and ideology — to switch to reusable bags.
Without a fee, many shoppers simply switch to paper bags, which have their own adverse environmental impacts. The manufacture and transportation of heavier paper bags produce global warming emissions and are also a significant source of water and ground level air pollution. Moreover, most paper bags don’t get recycled and end up in landfills. And the market for recycled paper is especially weak these days since China has essentially ended the importation of recyclables from the United States. Finally, since paper bags are substantially heavier than plastic ones, New York City would spend even more than the $12 million we spend each year to truck bag waste to landfills (disproportionately through low-income communities of color).
The State Legislation establishes an option for counties (including NYC) to require a 5-cent fee on paper bags, as Suffolk County has already done. Under the State Law, the fee would be split, with 3 cents going to the NYS Environmental Protection Fund, and the other 2 cents going to the locality to help purchase reusable bags for low-income residents.
As we began doing back in 2013, we are committed to working together with environmental advocates, neighborhood organizations, public housing resident associations, and all New Yorkers who care about reducing the waste we send to landfills to adopt a bag fee law for New York City. But let’s remember: the goal is not to collect the fee. The goal is to encourage people to switch to reusable bags, something everyone can do.”