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NYS plastic bag ban key but fees, loopholes are cause for concern

Starting March 1, 2020, New York’s ban on single-use plastic bags will take effect. Just this week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released its final regulations to govern the ban. 


Mildred E. Warner

Mildred E. Warner

Professor of City & Regional Planning and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies

Mildred Warner is a professor of city and regional planning, an expert on how to promote environmental sustainability at the local level, and a fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability who lead a project which resulted in the creation of guide for regulating plastic bags. She says while New York’s hybrid model for banning plastic bags with a fee on alternatives is key, if there are loopholes – such as thickness requirements – the plastic bag manufacturers and retailers will take advantage.

“As New York implements its plastic bag ban on March 1, it will join only a handful of other states that have also taken the lead to reduce plastic waste in our waterways and streets. As we know, the costs of plastic bag waste are high, both in terms of environmental degradation and waste management. 

“Research shows that the best way to get rid of plastic bags is to use a hybrid model: a plastic bag ban, plus a fee for paper bags. The hybrid model encourages consumers to bring reusable bags and the fee can also be used to purchase reusable bags for use by low income consumers. 

“New York’s plastic bag ban borrows from best practices in that it's a hybrid system that involves both a ban and a fee on alternatives. Where the law could be improved is in allowing counties to impose a higher fee – closer to the actual costs of plastic bag clean up. New York has set its optional county fee too low at five cents, with only two cents of that amount going to the county. Had New York state increased that fee, it could have left more of those funds in the hands of counties, which bear the costs of waste management and recycling. 

“Research from other cities shows that if there are loopholes, such as the ability to get around the thickness requirements, the plastic bag manufacturers and retailers will do it. This is another reason to include a fee for any alternative bag – plastic or paper.

“New York state has given retailers and the bag manufacturers a year to get prepared for this shift. Now they need to work on consumer education. Retailer and consumer behavior are key: retailers need to reduce their use and promote alternatives, but equally as important, consumers will also need to make the shift.”

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