On March 31, New York became the second state to pass state-wide legislation banning single-use plastic bags, following California’s ban in 2016.
The ban, included in the new state budget and set to take effect next March, also includes a five-cent tax on paper bags that counties can choose to opt in to, The New York Times reported. Although New York is second in statewide ruling on plastic bags, all of Hawaii’s counties had passed individual rulings barring plastic by July 2015, effectively banning use in the state.
However, New York’s new ruling includes several exceptions. Plastic takeout bags, bags for deli or meat counter items, bags sold in bulk such as trash bags, garment bags and newspaper bags are still permitted.
State legislators, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), hope that the ban will lessen the impact of non-biodegradable plastics on the environment.
“Plastic bags are trash. I’m including provisions in my executive budget to ban single-use plastic bags … Let’s protect our environment,” Cuomo tweeted on Jan. 3, 2018.
The Governor cited a reduction in land and water pollution as a main goal, as plastic trash can harm wildlife, in the announcement statement.
The ban also seeks to reduce emissions released during the plastic production process.
Jules Isnardi, sales team member at Home Green Home — a natural home goods shop on the Ithaca Commons — expressed her excitement about the ban’s passing.
“I think it’s going to set the foundation towards a mindset that helps people live more sustainable lifestyles and not single-use lifestyles,” Isnardi said. “I think it’s going to affect the shop really positively because we carry so many alternative options, and I look forward to helping people find those alternatives.”
Concerns have been raised, however, that without a mandated ban on paper bags, shoppers will continue to use them as a disposable option and further add to the waste and emissions that the ban aims to eliminate. According to Eric Goldstein, the New York City environment director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, paper requires more energy to make, resulting in water and air pollution. Additionally, its added weight requires more fossil fuels to transport, according to The New York Times.
Business owners have voiced concerns about the new legislation, specifically that paper bags cost more and smaller retailers cannot keep up with their larger competitors. “Every mandated cost increase adds up,” Greg Biryla, the New York director of National Federation of Independent Business, told The New York Times.
However, GreenStar Natural Foods market employee Joel Hartnett said that he wasn’t concerned about the ban’s potential negative impacts on business.
“Business model, business schmodel, get with the times, do the right thing,” he told The Sun in an interview.
GreenStar already charges a five-cent tax on paper bags, and Hartnett estimated that over 50 percent of customers either put their goods in a backpack or purse or opt to bring their own reusable bags.
The ban stipulates that three of the five cents charged for paper bags will go towards the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and the other two will go to local governments, according to The Democrat and Chronicle.
This is not the first time New York has regulated bag usage. On May 5, 2016, the New York City Council passed a Bring Your Own Bag Law, requiring businesses to charge five cents for any disposable bags within the city. The bill was delayed until Cuomo passed a bill essentially extinguishing the law, though the law was opposed by members of the State Assembly who cited fears that the tax would further stress low income families.
Brianna Brown, an employee at Wegmans and an Ithaca College student, said that the ban will not negatively affect Wegmans because “we’re 100 years strong, family, private owned, nearly 100 stores and care about the environment and obviously follow the law … we’re happy to help the environment whenever we can.”
Despite the pushback, the plastic bag ban hopes to be a step towards a cleaner, greener New York, and will go into effect next March.