Ben Parker / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

New York State has banned the use of plastic bags. Ithaca is in compliance, and is charging a fee for paper bags.

March 3, 2020

In Midst of New York State Plastic Bag Ban, Tompkins County Adds Paper Bag Fee

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Plastic bags at New York stores will soon be a thing of the past. Now, paper bags will come at a cost to unprepared shoppers in Ithaca.

Last Sunday marked the start of New York’s statewide ban on the distribution of plastic bags, an initiative aimed at reducing the environmental damage at the expense of consumer convenience. On top of the plastic bag ban, Tompkins County disincentivized using alternatives like paper bags.

Tompkins County has now implemented the 5 cent fee for paper bags, which will disincentivize the use of non-reusable bags. Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Women Infants and Children will be exempt from such fees, but everyone else must either remember their reusable bags or pay the price.

Businesses have until the end of March to adjust to the new policies, but once fully implemented, all businesses that collect New York state sales taxes are prevented from distributing single-use plastic bags, with a few minor exceptions — including bags used to carry prescription drugs from pharmacies and produce bags for bulk items.

“It’s been one day,” said Craig Hightower, manager of the Ithaca Target, about the new fee. “I think people have more questions than anything…as soon as I explain what is going on they understand.”

While the ban’s aim is to decrease litter and protect wildlife, it may have negative consequences for some consumers.

Haley Dossinger, who was outside the Cornell store carrying a reusable bag with her two children, admitted the ban was difficult to adjust to at first.

“It was a hard shift, just to shift mindsets, you know?” she said.

Carl Petro, a manager at the Collegetown 7/11, predicted that the ban will cause customers to switch to paper bags will be problematic due to the high levels of precipitation.

“People are shopping and it’s raining … the bags are getting wet,” Petro said. ”Everything ends up on the ground. That’s the only thing we perceive as being a problem.”

Hightower said he has yet to see anyone “particularly negative or upset” about receiving the news.

New York’s plastic bag ban mimics California’s Proposition 67, a law that banned plastic bags from most retail stores and mandated a charge of an extra 10 cents to customers for paper bags. While New York state did not mandate businesses to charge for paper bags, local governments are allowed to impose a 5 cent fee on all paper bags.

20 percent of the revenue generated from the surcharge will go towards Tompkins County, while the remaining 80 percent will go into New York’s Environmental Protection Fund.

Customers are generally pleased with the state’s and county’s efforts to limit plastic bag usage, even if it means having to train themselves to switch to reusable bags.

“I support [the ban] 100 percent, especially for the environment,” Dossinger said. “I think it took like, a week or two weeks of forgetting and then remembering, and now we’ve got the system down.”