Local pols still fighting for plastic bag tax

December 2, 2014 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Legislation that would place a 10-cent fee on every non-reusable bag distributed at grocery stores and supermarkets in hopes of reducing disposable bag use was revisited at a City Hall hearing on Wednesday, November 19, but while many environmental groups are on board, local residents are still undecided.

“I’m torn,” said Flatbush resident and Bay Ridge native Eileen Fitzpatrick. “I understand wanting to help the environment and I’m a fan of reusable bags – I always bring one or two shopping with me – but I also save my plastic bags and reuse them all the time.

“I understand the tax but I think I don’t like it,” she went on. “It’s hard enough to pay my rent on time and do laundry. I don’t need to be taxed for plastic bags.”

“I think the reusable bag is a good idea,” noted Bensonhurst resident Siobhan Denniston adding that, more times than not, supermarkets offer cash back in the form of a five-cent credit if you use your own bag. “I use them all the time and, since they’re less than a dollar a piece, they’ve paid for themselves a few times over already.”

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The bill, which exempts transactions made through food assistance programs and those made by food pantries, aims not to charge New Yorkers extra but to encourage the use of reusable shopping bags, say supporters.

“From Brooklyn to the Bronx, from Harlem to the Rockaways, grassroots organizations working for environmental justice in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color support the Plastic Bag Reduction Bill,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander who sponsored the bill back in March alongside Donovan Richards, Margaret Chin and Public Advocate Letitia James, citing such organizations as NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and WE ACT for Environmental Justice as strong supporters.

“They know it’s not only good for the environment and for cleaner neighborhoods, but also an important step towards reducing environmental burdens and making them more equitable, and they know New Yorkers of all incomes can and will begin bringing reusable bags once the law is in effect,” Lander continued.

Still, some politicians beg to differ.

“We are all concerned about the environment but there are numerous other ways to address those concerns,” said Assemblymember Dov Hikind. “The best way isn’t adding one more regular fee to our community members’ expenses. Things are already financially difficult. Why not encourage recycling with a discount to community members who choose to reuse carry out bags?

“If the litter caused by these bags is really a consideration, then let’s pursue stiffer littering penalties,” he went on, “but don’t penalize the average family who goes shopping once a week and brings home 15 or 20 bags of groceries. The last thing people with fixed incomes need is another expense.”

According to legislators, cities that have enacted similar bills have seen plastic bag-use decrease by 60 to 90 percent.

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