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New York’s plastic bag ban starts Sunday. Here’s everything you need to know.

February 25, 2020 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

New York’s plastic bag ban takes effect on Sunday, and stores across the borough are frantically preparing, educating customers on the new protocol, buying paper bags in bulk and even creating incentive programs to encourage shoppers to bring their own containers.

Starting March 1, all New Yorkers will have to bring their own reusable bags to the grocery store or pay five cents for a paper one. (The fee will not apply to SNAP or WIC customers.)

The legislation, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Earth Day of last year, 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.

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

Related: The ban on plastic bags is coming. Does it go far enough?

In preparation for the ban, Union Market has created an informational campaign dubbed BYOBag to educate customers on the new law. Store management has also instructed all cashiers to speak to customers, and there are signs up all around the store. In addition, the chain will be giving a 10-cent discount to every customer that brings his or her own bag.

“It’s self-explanatory. It’s the right thing for the environment, and we really care,” said Carlos Alfara, director of produce for all Union Market stores. “Our clientele also appreciate the fact that we care about the environment. Yes, it’s going to be a little bit of transition for many stores — being a shortage of bags or whatever it may be — but we wanted to be proactive on it.”

A worker at Union Market in Carroll Gardens puts up a sign explaining the new ban. Photo: Scott Enman/Brooklyn Eagle

For smaller mom-and-pop stores, however, the new ban has increased costs.


“The price difference is almost triple — paper bags are more expensive,” said Joe Kim, owner of Sunny Delicatessen in Brooklyn Heights.

“In the beginning it will be inconvenient for the customers, but I guess it’s something that you get used to, and then they will start bringing their own bag. I’m trying to get rid of what I have now.”

He said he would keep boxes on hand that he normally throws out just in case people need to carry groceries in them.

One of the owners of Deli & Grocery Fresh Fruit and Vegetables on Henry Street, who did not give her name, said, “We’re all ready. We bought plenty of paper bags.”

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

New Yorkers use more than 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.

Jeremy Cherson, legislative advocacy manager of the group, said that while the ban is a good first step, it’s not enough. He said the restaurant industry in New York City is massive and that delivery and food ordering services like Grub Hub and Uber Eats use a copious number of bags.

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.

A sign outside of Union Market in Carroll Gardens alerts customers to bring their own bag. Photo: Scott Enman/Brooklyn Eagle

Cherson warned that residents shouldn’t become equally reliant on paper bags — which come with their own set of environmental burdens.

He said that, because paper bags are heavier than plastic ones, they require more fossil fuels for transport, and they also take up more space in landfills, adding to an ongoing recycling crisis.

Some groups, like Bag the Ban, have criticized the new law, saying consumers will instead buy containers that require even more fossil fuels to create and that it could lead to paper bag shortages.

“They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources,” John Tierney wrote of plastic bags in The Wall Street Journal.

“Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trashcan liners. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint.”

There is also fear that the Coronavirus epidemic could affect New York’s supply of re-usable bags, since China is the largest exporter, according to the Staten Island Advance.

Still, the city, elected officials and stores across the borough are preparing for the new changes to take effect.

The Department of Sanitation will be joined by Assemblymember Robert Carroll in handing out reusable bags outside 1077 Coney Island Ave. on Friday, as well as outside the Windsor Farms Market in Windsor Terrace and the C Town supermarket in Park Slope on Saturday.

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.


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2 Comments

  1. What you really need to know about this ban is that is a scam.
    WHY should customers be nickel & dimed to death with an extra charge for paper bags?
    Crummy bags , mist of which don’t even have a handle/

    This is an outright gift for store owners, who no longer provide free bags for their merchandise.
    And it’s a real inconvenience, and a regressive tax on all retail shoppers.
    The poorest among us will be exempt, but so should all the rest of us who can’t afford to have everything delivered to their door.
    I wonder if these out-of-touch legislators ever actually go shopping? Do they think that shoppers have developed pouches, likes kangaroos, to carry items around all day long?

    Just as stores currently provide free plastic bags, they should now ALSO provide free paper bags (which are entirely recyclable, unlike plastic bags).
    If the new law says they must charge a nickel for each paper bag, then they should give customers a CREDIT for each paper bag used. I believe Whole Foods does that now.

    We need to demand that other retailers do the same, until the nickel charge for paper bags is repealed (hint- call and email your state legislators).
    If stores do not provide free paper bags they will lose business, especially spur-of-the-moment purchases, such as at lunch or coming and going from work, which in today’s online economy they cannot afford to lose.

    IWhere there’s a will there’s a way, and obviously the state legislature would rather tax & inconvenience us instead of coming up with a better way.