New York Enacts a State-Wide Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags

New York Enacts a State-Wide Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags

The state of New York is the third U.S. state to mandate that all businesses avoid single-use plastic bags in order to address “environmental blights.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo is following in Oregon and California’s footsteps by banning all single-use plastic bags in the state with the Bag Waste Reduction Law. Why? Because “We only have one chance to save our planet,” said New York mayor Bill de Blasio.

Every year, New York goes through a whopping 23 billion plastic bags—and most of them end up in landfills, floating down the streets and floating in waterways. This ban, however, is a hopeful step in reducing single-plastic materials, and it means most businesses will not be allowed to provide or sell plastic bags, according to The Guardian.

There are a few exceptions. Takeaway and delivery food, prescription drugs, garbage bags, uncooked meat and fish and some non-film plastic “reusable” bags will still be allowed. However, for the most part, consumers will be expected to bring their own bags to most places.

The ban took effect on Sunday, March 1, 2020 as a “bold action to protect our environment and ban these environmental blights.” New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, is handing out free tote bags in Manhattan to help people get started.

Oregon and California already have state-wide bans on single-use plastic bags, and counties of Hawaii have individual bans. Other states are set to follow suit including Maine and Vermont in 2020 and Connecticut and Delaware in 2021.

The New York government is not just leaving people out to dry, however. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation said it planned to focus on education rather than punishment for those who do not adhere to the rule. Signs have popped up all over stores and social media alerting customers to bring their own bags. Free reusable bags are being offered to low-income households.

However, businesses will be fined $250 for a first violation of the ban and $500 for any further violation in the same year. Some local authorities, including New York City (which cycles through 10 billion plastic bags a year) will charge a five-cent fee for paper bags.

“The paper bag fee coupled with the bag ban encourages a deeper culture shift in New York City towards reusable habits. This is a critical shift we need to cultivate if we are to meet our zero waste goals,” said Mark Chambers, director of the New York city mayor’s office of sustainability.

Still, companies can provide paper bags for a fee, but they are not required to do so. Other companies are offering “reusable” plastic bags. According to another article, “to qualify as ‘reusable,’ a bag has to be able to carry 22lbs over a distance of 175 feet, which it is pleasing to imagine the bag police trying to test and enforce.”

Still, New York’s commitment doesn’t stop there. City authorities recently pledged to cute use of single-use plastic cutlery, foodware and bottles and seek a reduction on plastic straws. The state is also considering a ban on single-use Styrofoam containers.

The ban has incited mixed opinions among New Yorkers, however. Some are optimistic, and others are not. According to The Guardian article:

Sierra Graham, 24, a student from Brooklyn, said: “It’s definitely possible for New Yorkers to adapt and change because that’s what New Yorkers are known for. So I think a lot more people will be going in for tote bags, coming more prepared, since some stores are already enforcing things like that.”

Egon Zippel, 59, a visual artist, said: “I think it’s great and it should have come much sooner. So yeah, I’m happy they’re implementing it.” He thought the charge for paper should be higher.

Jessie Moore, 22, a market worker, said: “Although those signs are up and we’ve received warning about it I think people are still going to expect to be receiving plastic bags and just will be unsure how to transport their stuff.”

Angela Zhou, 38, manager of a nearby grocery store, said: “I don’t know where I can buy the paper bags. They say the paper bag for the customer costs five cents, I think if we bought it, it would probably cost more money.”

The Food Industry Alliance of New York, which represents about 800 stores across the state, has major concerns about the new law because she fears it will hurt the grocery store industry:

“Kristina Wieneke, the organization’s vice-president of government affairs, said: “Retailers are concerned about the anticipated backlash from the public…grocery stores typically operate within a one or two percent profit margin. This additional financial burden will certainly have consequences for the industry.”

Still, other officials say the ban was a landmark moment and a step towards educating the public about the problem of plastic and pollution:

Dianna Cohen, chief executive and co-founder of non-profit Plastic Pollution Coalition, said: “It’s just a way of helping people open their eyes to begin to see the plastic pollution problem … I look at these laws as ways for people to get started in the right direction.”

Nevertheless, the New York ban is alive and well—and people are being urged to bring their own bags, or get no bag at all. Time will tell if it will prove to be an effective, environmental effort.

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