States Ban the Bag: New York State of Mind

Niagara Falls viewed from New York side - Environmental responsibility

The New York State of Mind Goes Green

New York was a relative latecomer to the bag ban movement. A few cities and towns passed or attempted to pass, single-use plastic bag bans, but things never really took off. At least, not the way things quickly grew in places like California and even in Massachusetts. All of that changed when New York became the second state to officially ban single-use plastic bags.

Learn more about the Empire State’s bag ban in this installment of #StatesBanTheBag.

Early Efforts

Southampton became the first town in New York state to ban single-use plastic bags in late 2011. A few neighboring towns in the South Fork of Long Island followed Southampton’s lead, as well as a few cities in Westchester County. The movement sort of stalled.

Different cities and counties expressed interest in bag bans, but very few of these efforts came to pass. All of that changed and the bag ban movement picked up some serious momentum around 2017.

Bag Ban Grows

In 2017, both Madison and Warren Counties proposed single-use plastic bag bans. Both counties would later abandon these proposals when talk of a state-wide ban began, however, these proposals are significant because they indicate the shift in opinion regarding bag bans.

Also in 2017, New York City passed a law imposing a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. In all of these instances, the objectives behind regulating plastic bags were to reduce unsightly litter and the expense tied to cleaning up this trash, as well as preventing the environmental harm caused by plastic litter.

Shortly before the fee was to go into effect, New York’s governor signed a bill blocking the bag fee. New York City’s mayor later responded by suggesting a bag ban throughout the city. Around the same time, an assemblyman proposed reintroducing New York City’s 5-cent bag fee as state law.

Two Very Different Arguments

Typically, when there is opposition to efforts to ban or impose fees on single-use plastic bags it is because people do not want any type of regulation. There was definitely anti-ban sentiment among the opposition. Although, there was another segment of the opposition that wanted to prevent individual cities and counties from taking action in favor of banning bags at the state level.

Ultimately, New York’s governor opposed New York City’s bag fee because he felt this type of action should be taken at a state level.

Special Task Force

A special task force was assembled to analyze the impact of single-use plastic bags in the state of New York. This task force was expected to make a recommendation by the end of 2017 regarding whether or not to regulate single-use plastic bags. It was largely anticipated that this recommendation would drive any action taken.

The final analysis published by the task force largely cited the positive impact of California’s bag ban. A total of six options were listed as possible solutions to the damaging environmental impact of single-use plastic bags. Those options include:

  • Strengthen and Enforce Existing New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and
    Recycling Act
  • Manufacturer Responsibility for Recycling of Single-Use Plastic Bags
  • Fee on Single-Use Plastic Bags
  • Fee per Transaction for Single-Use Bags
  • Fee on Single-Use Plastic and Paper Bags
  • Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags

Going Green in NY

A proposal to ban single-use plastic bags emerged from the task force’s findings. In March 2019, the ban was approved and New York became the second state to ban single-use plastic bags. The ban will go into action on March 1, 2020, and the ban overrides any existing bans and fees previously put into place.

Paper Bag Fee

New York’s ban allows each county to decide whether or not to levy a 5-cent fee on paper bags. For counties that adopt the fee, 2 cents would go to the county, while the remaining 3 cents would be added to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

Officials in New York City have indicated they will adopt the paper bag fee. At this time, no other counties have confirmed they will opt in to the bag fee. Several counties have indicated they will not levy the paper bag fee. Those counties include:

  • Chemung
  • Livingston
  • Madison
  • Monroe
  • Nassau
  • Niagara
  • Oneida

Learn More About States That Have Banned The Bag!

#StatesBanTheBag is a series that takes a look at single-use plastic bag bans implemented at the state level. Each ban is unique and this series tells the story of how each state-wide ban come to be. Come back soon to learn more about the first of two New England states to pass bag bans on the same day.

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