Push to require stores to charge for plastic bags

August 20, 2013 Heather Chin
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If you love your plastic and paper bags, then you might want to stockpile them at home for ready re-use because several city councilmembers have teamed up to push for legislation that would require grocery and retail stores to charge customers a minimum of 10 cents per bag.

The effort is part of a campaign to protect the environment with reduced plastic bag usage, save New York City and its taxpayers approximately $10 million a year in sanitation and recycling costs, and get New Yorkers used to the idea of reusing their own plastic/paper/cloth bags instead of relying on getting new ones every time they go to the store.

“It can be easy to forget the impact we each have on the environment – an impact that really adds up when you have a city of eight million people,” saidCouncilmember Brad Lander. “The truth is, there are a lot of times that we don’t really need a plastic bag. This common sense legislation will help New York cut plastic bag waste, both saving money and reducing litter, without affecting small businesses.”

Lander, who represents Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Windsor Terrace and Kensington, introduced the bill along with Councilmember Margaret Chin of Lower Manhattan.

The legislation is narrowly targeted at grocery and retail carryout bags, to avoid logistical burdens on consumers:

•Restaurants would not be covered due to limited alternatives for delivery and take-out food orders.

•Produce, meat and bulk food bags used within stores are exempt from the charge in order to protect food from contamination, as well as pharmacy counter bags for medicine.

•Street vendors that sell similar goods to retail and grocery stores would be covered; those that sell prepared food like restaurants would not be covered.

Chin explained the inspiration behind the bill further, noting, “Too often at the register, we bag and double-bag, heedless of the severe environmental cost we all pay. In my district in Lower Manhattan, after a busy weekend, you can see these bags overflowing from trash cans and in the streets and gutters. The bags end up clogging our streets, littering our public parks, and costing taxpayers millions of dollars in clean up and waste removal. This bill incentivizes consumers to bring their own reusable bags and think twice before reaching for paper or plastic ones, which will cut back on pollution and ultimately protect New York City’s invaluable green spaces and waterways that have been under threat for too long.”

Among the co-sponsors is Brooklyn Councilmember Stephen Levin, who represents Williamsburg, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Brooklyn Heights.

Numerous environmental and community nonprofits have also lined up in support of the legislation. They include the New York League of Conservation Voters, Citizens Committee of NYC, PlasticBagLaws.org, Natural Resources Defense Council, No Impact Project, Surfrider Foundation and the Human Impacts Institute.

“Many of these types of measures which are now widely popular were opposed in the beginning,” said Peter Kostmayer, the CEO of CCNYC, ‘but, with time and the improvement in our air and water, the cleanliness of our restaurants, the satisfaction we all get from safer, more pedestrian-friendly streets, New Yorkers have come to support them as I believe they will end up supporting a dramatic reduction in plastic bags.”

However, not everybody is on board. State Senator Simcha Felder said he opposed the measure, contending “New Yorkers cannot afford the basics, and now the City Council is essentially telling the average New Yorker who’s in trouble, ‘not only are you suffering, but we’re really going to stomp on your head by charging you 10 cents extra per bag.’ This is nothing more than a tax and an attempt to make money. People are already overtaxed and overburdened. While the City Council is busy seeing green, New Yorkers will be seeing red.”

Assemblymember Dov Hikind concurred. “It is the wrong place and the wrong time for this initiative,” he asserted. “Doesn’t the city have anything else to worry about? The city should stop telling New Yorkers what’s good for them and let people make their own decisions.”

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