By Robert Kimmel–
It took a while to get it out of the bag; however, the law banning single use plastic bags in New York state is finally being enforced. Beginning this week, stores will not be dispensing plastic bags with your purchases, albeit with a few exceptions.
Enforcement began Monday, October 19 after almost an eight month delay. The original date for the compulsory elimination of single use plastic bag use was March 1, but the regulation was not enforced because of a lawsuit filed by a plastic bag maker, a couple of retail establishments and the Small Business Association in New York. Also contributing to the delay was the COVID-19 pandemic.
New York’s State Supreme Court ruled August 20th in favor of the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. By agreement with the lawsuit parties, enforcement was held off until this week.
The State’s DEC Commissioner, Basil Seggos, described the Court’s decision: “…a victory and a vindication of New York State’s efforts to end the scourge of single-use bags and a direct rebuke to the plastic bag manufacturers who tried to stop the law and the DEC’s regulations to implement it. As we have said for many months,” continued Seggos, “DEC is encouraging New Yorkers to switch to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common-sense precautions to keep reusable bags clean.”
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many retail stores were reluctant to allow customers to employ reusable bags to fill with their products. The law still allows some use of plastic bags for certain products, such as prescription drugs, fruit, vegetables, meat and fish.
At the time the bag ban was originally to go into effect, Governor Cuomo said, “Right this minute, plastic bags are hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, filling up our landfills, and polluting our lakes, rivers and streams, all hurting our environment. Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish.” An estimated 23 billion plastic bags have been used by New Yorkers annually.
The new law also permits cities and counties to charge an additional five-cent bag fee for each carryout bag provided at checkout. Penalties for stores that ignore the ban are harsher: $250 for a first offense and $500 for subsequent violations.
Certain organizations, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are exempt from the fee, but the thrust is to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.