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New York bans plastic bags on Earth Day

'We're putting an end to this blight on our environment.'

April 23, 2019 Scott Enman
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning single-use plastic bags in New York, which goes into effect on March 1, 2020. Photo via pexels

Come March of next year, all New Yorkers will be required to bring their own reusable containers to the grocery store after a bill banning single-use plastic bags was signed into law on Monday.

The legislation, passed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Earth Day, will not only cut down on litter across the state, but will also protect wildlife from ingesting plastic and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag production and disposal.

“You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage,” Cuomo said.

“Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year, and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”

Related: An inside look at how Brooklyn recycles

New York joins Hawaii and California as the only other states in the country to enact statewide bans on plastic bags.

Garment bags, trash bags and bags used to wrap foods like fruits and sliced meats are exempt from the ban.

Counties and cities have the option of charging a five-cent tax for single-use paper bags. Three cents from that fee will go to the Environmental Protection Fund, while the other two cents will go to the locality to pay for distribution of reusable bags.

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“This bill is a great step that will significantly help New York State cut down on waste, litter and pollution from single-use plastic carryout bags,” Eric A. Goldstein, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“We now need to focus on a fee on paper carryout bags, which have their own set of environmental burdens, to prevent a massive shift at retail outlets from plastic to paper carryout bags.”

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivers remarks during a Plastic Bag Ban Bill Signing event in Kingston. (Mike Groll/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)
Gov. Cuomo finishes signing the plastic bag ban bill in Kingston, N.Y. Photo by Mike Groll/Office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo

New Yorkers use roughly 23 billion single-use plastic bags per year, and the average life cycle of a plastic bag is only 15 minutes, according to Riverkeeper, a water advocacy nonprofit.

The organization leads an annual cleanup of more than 100 sites along the Hudson River and continually finds that plastic bags are the most-picked-up items.

“At our annual Riverkeeper Sweep, volunteers remove tons of plastics, including single-use bags from New York’s shorelines,” Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said.

“Plastic pollution is a regional scourge as well as a global emergency. Thanks to Gov. Cuomo and the legislature for banning the plastic bag in New York and continued investments in clean water infrastructure.”

The detrimental effects of plastic on wildlife continually come into the spotlight as more and more animals die from ingesting it. In March, an emaciated dead whale washed ashore in the Philippines after swallowing roughly 88 pounds of plastic.

Sixty to 80 percent of all marine debris is composed of plastic, and more than 260 species have ingested or been entangled in plastic debris, according to The Wildlife Conservation Society.

The statewide ban on plastic bags comes just a little more than a week after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order ending New York City’s purchase of single-use plastic items.

The Department of Sanitation collects 36 million pounds of single-use plastic foodware every year, according to de Blasio, who said the city’s order would rapidly reduce the city government’s use of single-use plastic foodware by 95 percent.

One Eagle columnist complained that there were so many plastic bags plaguing his neighborhood that he could “just grab one from the street or off a branch” if he ever left “the house to walk the dog without a pick-up bag.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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