Cuomo pitches bag ban

For a “greener New York,” gov­er­nor to in­clude em­bargo of sin­gle-use shop­ping sacks in bud­get

Albany Times Union - - FRONT PAGE - By Lau­ren Stan­forth and Mal­lory Moench

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.

Drew Angerer / Getty Im­ages

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.

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