Plastic Bags Forgotten Law

In this photo taken Friday, Oct. 25, 2013, a plastic shopping bag liters the roadside in Sacramento, Calif.  (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Rich Pedroncelli

A state task force suggested several options to address plastic bag waste in New York after failing to reach a consensus on one recommendation. 

The Plastic Bag Task Force's 88-page report was released Saturday ahead of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget address. The governor will outline his budget proposal Tuesday in Albany. 

The six-member task force led by state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos narrowed the list of possible solutions to eight options, including stronger enforcement of existing state laws to reduce plastic bag waste, an outright ban on single-use plastic bags found in supermarkets and other stores and requiring manufacturers to fund a program that would collect and recycle plastic bags. 

Four of the options would impose a fee on plastic bag usage. One would apply only to single-use plastic bags. Another would assess a fee on paper and plastic bags. A third proposal would institute a fee per transaction instead of charging consumers for each bag. And a hybrid option would ban plastic bags while charging a fee for paper and reusable bags. 

"As states across the nation and world struggle with the environmental and financial costs of plastic bag waste, New York is developing a comprehensive solution," Seggos said. "Under Governor Cuomo's direction, the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force has identified equitable, statewide solutions to address plastic bag waste and this report provides a menu of options to tackle this issue." 

The report was criticized by environmental groups because it failed to endorse one recommendation for Cuomo and state lawmakers to consider. 

Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, served on the task force and expressed her disappointment with the final report. She dissented from the final report because she believes there are only two good options: a fee on plastic and paper bags or a plastic bag ban with a fee for paper bags. 

Boosting recycling efforts wouldn't work, she argued, because the recycling market couldn't handle the amount of plastic bags used by consumers. 

"We must instead focus on reducing the number of plastic bags produced," Bystryn said. "We know from countless examples around the world that when consumers take responsibility for their actions by bringing their own bag or paying a fee to cover their environmental impact, single-use bag consumption drops precipitously." 

Like Bystryn, Adrienne Esposito of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said it was unfortunate that the panel couldn't reach a consensus on a possible solution. 

With the task force's work complete, the focus now shifts to how Cuomo and the state Legislature will address the issue. 

"We are now counting on Governor Cuomo to keep his promise to environmental organizations to provide a statewide solution to plastic pollution that bans single-use plastic bags, places a fee on paper bags and dedicates revenue from the fee to environmental programs in his upcoming executive budget proposal," Esposito said. 

Cuomo launched the task force last year after the state blocked the implementation of New York City's fee for single-use plastic bags. One of the reasons cited for preventing the city from imposing a fee was Cuomo's desire to have a statewide policy in place. 

New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags each year, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. 

Ten local governments in New York already have plastic bag bans. Another has a plastic bag ban with a fee for reusable and single-use paper bags. 

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