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New York to Introduce State-Wide Ban on Plastic Bags

But the plan has drawn criticism from both business groups and environmental advocates

New York is the second state to pass a ban on single use plastic bags. California was the first. (Flickr user velkr0 via Flickr under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))
smithsonianmag.com

New York lawmakers have reached an agreement to implement a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags, due to take effect in March 2020. The goal of the deal, which is part of the state budget plan due on April 1, is to encourage consumers to instead rely on reusable tote bags. But as Jesse McKinley reports for the New York Times, the ban has drawn criticism from both business groups and environmental advocates.

Proposed one year ago by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, the state’s plan will prohibit stores from offering single-use plastic bags to customers. There are several exemptions to the rule, including food takeout bags, newspaper bags, bags used to wrap deli and meat products, garment bags, bags for bulk items and bags that are sold in bulk, like garbage and recycling bags. Counties will be able to opt in to charge a five-cent fee for paper bags; revenue from the sales will be allocated to the Environmental Protection Fund and to a fund that buys reusable bags for consumers.

New York is only the second state to ban single-use plastic bags, following in the footsteps of California, which imposed its plastic bag ban in 2014. Hawaii has a “de-facto statewide ban” on plastic bags, as all of its major counties prohibit their use in stores.

In a statement, Cuomo called the new plan a “smart, multi-pronged action,” according NBC News’ Doha Madani. “For far too long these bags have blighted our environment and clogged our waterways and that's why I proposed a ban in this year's budget,” the governor added.

Single-use plastic bags are a ubiquitous and destructive source of pollution. They often end up in the oceans, where marine life eat them or get ensnared in them. Manufacturing plastic bags produces a high amount of greenhouse gases, and, like many other plastic products, the standard bags are not biodegradebale. Plastic pollution instead breaks down into tiny pieces that get gulped down by a vareity of organisms and make their way up the food chain.

But New York’s new ban has faced pushback. Mike Durant, president of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, tells the Times’ McKinley that he is concerned by the “failure to give even a portion of the 5-cent [paper bag] fee back to the stores,” which makes the ban “an untenable mandate for many of our members who operate within finite profit margins.”

Then there is the question of whether paper bags are in fact better for the environment than plastic ones. As Ben Adler reported for Wired in 2016, a comprehensive 2007 Australian study found that paper bags actually have a higher carbon footprint than plastic—largely because it takes more energy to make and transport them. So some advocates have criticized the New York plan for giving customers the option to buy paper bags, rather than ban them outright.

“New York had a chance to show real leadership and came up short,” Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, tells McKinley.

But in an interview with NBC News’ Madani, Todd Kaminsky, a Democratic state senator from Nassau County and chairman of the Environmental Conservation Committee, said he believes New York’s plastic bag ban was long overdue.

“I think we’re going to look back and wonder why this isn’t something that was commonplace before now,” he noted. “But I’m glad we’re doing it now and leading the way in being one of the first states to do it.”

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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