Cuomo pitches bag ban
For a “greener New York,” governor to include embargo of single-use shopping sacks in budget
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Sunday that his 2019 executive budget will include a ban on single-use plastic bags to “create a cleaner and greener New York for all.”
Cuomo introduced a bill last April that followed a state task force’s recommendations to ban retailers from providing the nonbiodegradable bags that are increasingly littering neighborhoods and polluting waterways.
This move would be a “statewide plastic bag prohibition,” according to a news release Sunday on the proposal.
Exemptions to the ban would be made in an effort to not impact lower-income populations, the governor’s release said. Handing out
free, reusable bags would be a part of that effort.
Cuomo’s original legislation, which the state Legislature did not vote on last year, also exempted the thin bags provided in grocery store produce departments. The legislation applied to point-of-sale bags only — not bags that are purchased as a group, like sandwich bags or dog waste bags.
Some cities, towns, and villages in New York already have banned plastic bags.
Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-albany, said in April that she thought it would be better to have a nominal fee of about five cents per bag to encourage shoppers to bring a reusable bag with them. The money would then be put into an environmental fund.
“There are times when you will need a bag,” Fahy said at the time. “You need that flexibility.”
But the governor already helped block New York City’s effort to have a five-cent fee per bag there. Cuomo approved a state Legislature bill to block the New York City fee in February 2017. At the same time, the governor created a state Plastic Bags Task Force that released an 88-page report — in part recommending a statewide ban.
But the report, which estimated that New Yorkers use about 23 billion plastic bags annually, also said a ban would not address single-use paper bags, which would likely become popular again if plastic bags are banned.
The state environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper warned last year that a plastic bag ban should be accompanied by a fee on paper bags.
Banning plastic bag usage is meant to not only cut out a nonbiodegradable substance, but to limit the amount of waste and fossil fuels used to produce and transport them. The same concerns about production and transport would also apply to paper bags.
In 2017, California banned most plastic bags — while also placing a 10-cent fee on each paper bag. Cuomo’s original bill did not propose a fee on paper bags.
Cuomo did not offer specifics Sunday regarding what kind of stores, restaurants or other businesses a plastic bag ban would impact.
Mona Golub, vice president of public relations and consumer services at Price Chopper, which operates more than 130 grocery stores in six states, said the state legislation proposed last year was incomplete.
“It makes provisions only for disposable plastic bags and makes no disincentive for disposable paper bags, which are also detrimental to the environment,” Golub said.
She said at the Price Chopper store in Brattleboro, Vt., where plastic bags are banned, customers converted to using disposable paper bags — which she said are less cost-effective and reusefriendly and equally difficult to recycle and biodegrade. They now charge a nickel for paper bags.
“We support the most efficient way forward to diminishing reliance on disposable bags — both paper and plastic — and encouraging the use and reuse of longterm heavy duty alternatives,” Golub said.
Golub said Price Chopper stores offer a three-cent rebate for every bag, box and tote customers reuse, but only 10 percent of customers take advantage of the incentive.
She said imposing a nickel fee on both paper and plastic bags has worked to drastically increase reusable bag usage in Suffolk County. In Lake Placid, Price Chopper started charging for disposable bags on its own simply to encourage the use of reusable bags.
When it comes to criticism that banning disposable bags would hurt low-income communities, Golub highlighted the cost benefits of reusable bags.
“The heavy duty reusables are good for hundreds of uses, it may be good for five to ten years. They need to look closely at what affording means,” she said.
She also said that legislation needs to make exceptions for customers on federal food assistance programs.
The governor Sunday also announced that he wants to expand the state’s bottle bill to make other nonalcoholic plastic drinking containers, like those used for sports and energy drinks, eligible for five-cent redemption. Bottles that are used for milk or infant formula would not be included in the expansion.
The news release also said Cuomo will direct the state to do a study, in consultation with the industry and retailers, on how the bottle bill could be further expanded to include five-cent redemption on wine and liquor bottles.
Cuomo’s Sunday announcement is part of the governor’s preview of the topics he will cover in both his presentation of the 2019 executive budget, as well as in his State of the State address, scheduled for Tuesday.
Also this weekend, the governor’s office announced it wants to increase the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
A shopper leaves a Brooklyn Rite Aid carrying a plastic bag. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced a bill that proposes to ban single-use carryout plastic bags statewide.