New York State Promises Plastic Bag Ban

New York State is saying goodbye to plastic bags next year. 

In the state’s new budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year created in late March, Cuomo and state legislators approved a ban for the distribution of single-use plastic bags for consumers in businesses across the state. 

Taking after California, who passed a similar law in 2016, the ban denies the option of providing plastic bags in stores, instead offering an alternative choice of paper bags at a five cent fee per bag. Three cents of the five cent paper bag fee will go towards the New York State Environmental Protection Fund to aid in environmental project development. The remaining two cents will be given to portions of the state government to use for giveaways of reusable bags and education for consumers on the impact of pollution. 

The ban will not include bags provided for raw meats, prescription drugs and newspapers. Most notably, it will also not include garbage bags or takeout plastic bags provided by restaurants. The ban will take effect in March of 2020. 

Some state counties have already implemented bag bans of their own in recent years, such as Ulster County, who passed their law in October of 2018 to take effect this July. In fact, the Village of New Paltz passed a similar plastic bag ban in November of 2014, over five years before the statewide ban takes effect.

“We were one of the first communities in New York State to ban plastic bags,” Mayor Tim Rogers said. “All you have to do is stand outside and look up [in there] and you can find a plastic bag up in a tree and there are just plastic bags everywhere.” 

The primary goal of this ban is to reduce plastic pollution throughout the state and encourage consumers to use reusable bags, such as those made of canvas, or buy paper bags that are eco-friendlier. State conservation organizations including Riverkeeper, a waterway conservation group, have lobbied for the change due to heavy pollution on shorelines, rivers and tributaries.

“Plastic is, by far, the single largest pollutant that we collect every spring when we hold shoreline cleanup days,” Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay said. “Not only are there plastic bags, there are much smaller plastic particles that derive from plastic bags discarded in years’ past.” 

Gallay also commented on the effectiveness of a ban passed on Long Island’s Suffolk County last year, where businesses charge a five cent fee for each plastic bag used.

“In the first year of the law placing a fee on plastic bags, there was a reduction of nearly one billion plastic bags taken in stores, and a huge reduction in the number of plastic bags found on beaches and shorelines.” 

Many New Paltz students agree with the upcoming ban, however, there are still some that question its usefulness, such as third-year digital media production student Jared Van Houten.

“Plastic waste is very detrimental to our environment, but it’s honestly just like, why? There are so many other things we could be doing,” Van Houten said. “I really, truly believe in the advancement of our climate and environmental reforms in New York State as well as the country as a whole…. I feel like it’s a good effort, but we are just going down the wrong path.”

Other students raised concerns over the expense of the paper bags for low-income families. To combat this, areas such as Ulster County allow those that use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants and Children nutritional program to bypass the fee.