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Coronavirus puts plastic bag ban enforcement on hold until May

March 20, 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 State will not enforce its plastic bag ban, which went into effect on March 1, until at least May 15 due to the turmoil caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation had initially agreed to delay enforcement of the ban until April 1 due to a lawsuit brought upon the agency by business  owners negatively impacted by the new law, but will now delay it by an additional seven weeks. The legal action seeks a formal injunction to block the ban.

Related: Does the plastic bag ban go far enough?

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Erica Ringewald, spokeswoman for DEC, said her agency would continue to focus on education and outreach rather than enforcement, and that the extension until May 15 was due to the fact that the court system, pared down to only its most essential functions by the pandemic, determined that the lawsuit was not a priority.

“DEC continues to encourage New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common sense precautions to keep their reusable bags clean,” Ringewald said. “New York’s ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect as planned on March 1. Retailers across the state are complying.”

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

As of March 1, all New Yorkers were required to bring their own reusable bags to the grocery store or pay five cents for a paper one. The legislation, signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Earth Day of last year, is intended to cut down on litter across the state, protect wildlife from ingesting plastic and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag production and disposal.

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

Related: New York on PAUSE after Cuomo issues mandatory coronavirus shutdown


Under the extension, businesses will not be penalized for using plastic bags until May 15, though that date could be extended depending on the outcome of the legal action.

The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance commended the decision to delay enforcement and used the opportunity to call for an alternative to the ban, arguing that single-use bags and bottles are essential to stopping the spread of diseases.

“There is ample scientific research concluding reusable bags can contribute to the spread of bacteria and viruses, and now more than ever we need to take every step possible to ensure that New Yorkers are safe and healthy,” ARPBA Executive Director Matt Seaholm said.

“While this additional delay is going to provide some temporary relief for retailers and their customers, a fix is still needed if the state wants a law that is workable.”

DEC commissioner Basil Seggos, however, countered the assertion that reusable bags can spread germs.

“If you are concerned about the cleanliness of your reusable bag, please consider washing it — as you wash clothes or hands,” he tweeted. “It’s good hygiene anyway. New Yorkers are pleased with the bag ban and have no interest in a return to polluting ways.”

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  1. Morgan Ironwolf

    A reusable bag has an environmental impact equivalent to 20,000 plastic bags. Will you really use that bag 20,000 times? I’ve never gotten more than 100 or 200 uses out of one before it fell apart.