Local businesses look ahead to plastic bag ban

10 Apr 2019 | 01:17

    Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fellow Democrats who control the Legislature have reached a deal to make New York the third state with a ban on single-use plastic grocery bags.
    New York's ban won't take effect until next March. The plan also calls for allowing local governments the option to impose a 5-cent fee on paper bags, with 3 cents going to the state's Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents kept by local governments.
    While the neighbor to the north is banning plastic bags, New Jersey's similar legislation, which provides for the decrease and eventual ban on the use of non-compostable plastic grocery bags and single-use plastic straws has been referred to the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee in July 2018.
    The proposed law establishes that no store or food-service business should provide a plastic carryout bag to a customer. It also would prohibit the sale of any styrofoam food-service product. It would also prohibit food-service businesses from doing the same. It would also disallow the use of single-use plastic straws in food service establishments.
    Violations of the proposed law would be subject to a $5,000 penalty for each offfense.
    The Town of Warwick, N.Y., last year discussed a 5 cent per-bag surcharge to encourage shoppers in town to bring their own reusable bags. But a plan to have voters decide on the surcharge in November's general election was dropped when the town attorney said the matter should be decided by the town board, which was split on the issue.
    A similar measure made it through both houses of the New Jersey state legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Phil Murphy, who called the measure "incomplete and insufficient" in his veto message.
    The measure would have established a 5-cent fee on plastic bags in "certain stores" and fee revenue would have been dedicated to the "Healthy Schools and Community Lead Abatement Fund".
    The fee also would have have appealed to citizens 65 or older and anyone enrolled int he Supplemental NutritionAssistance Program or the Special Nutrition Assistance Program for Women's Children and Infants, or the Work First New Jersey program.
    The statewide ban will prohibit grocery stores from providing plastic bags for most purchases, something California has been doing since a statewide ban was approved in 2016. Hawaii has an effective statewide ban, with all its counties imposing their own restrictions.
    New York’s ban includes some exceptions, including garment bags, bags used for takeout food or to wrap meat or deli products, garbage bags, and bags sold in bulk.
    Supporters say they keep plastic bags from entering the environment and causing damage to ecosystems and waterways.
    “With this smart, multi-pronged action New York will be leading the way to protect our natural resources now and for future generations of New Yorkers," said Cuomo, who proposed the ban in his $175 billion budget proposal.
    'Tremendous step' for the environmentEnvironmental conservation advocates had been pushing for a statewide fee for paper bags as a way to encourage wider consumer use of reusable bags.
    Nonetheless, Patrick McClellan, state policy director for the New York League of Conservation Voters, said his group was “thrilled" that the bag ban passed.
    “Plastic bags pollute our waterways and streets, and both plastic and paper bags contribute to the solid waste crisis and cost taxpayers money," he said. “While the best policy would be a ban on plastic bags coupled with a statewide fee on other disposable bags, this agreement represents a tremendous step forward."
    Riverkeeper, an environmental organization that advocates for the Hudson River, cheered the ban. Single-use plastic bags were in the top five most commonly found items among the 38 tons of trash collected along the river in 2018.
    Jeremy Cherson, Riverkeeper's legislative advocacy manager, called the ban a “tremendous step” toward protecting the environment.
    He said he's seen progress in counties that adopted the 5 cent fee. Suffolk County, for example, saw a 41 percent decrease in plastic bag litter since the local law was adopted in 2018, he said.
    Cherson said Riverkeeper's advocacy will go beyond the plastic ban, with a view to eliminating all single-use plastics.

    Reporting by Helu Wang and Frances Ruth Harris, and by Chris Carola and David Klepper of the Associated Press.
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