Three Democratic state legislators want to take action this year to address plastic bag pollution in New York.
A bill sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Englebright and state Sens. Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger would ban plastic carryout bags. The measure would also impose a minimum 10-cent fee on paper and reusable bags. The highest fee that could be charged for paper and reusable bags is 25 cents.
The proposal is modeled after California's plastic bag law and based on one of the recommendations outlined in a report released in January by New York's Plastic Bag Task Force. The task force, which was led by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, didn't endorse one option over another.
The task force was formed last year after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation blocking the implementation of a new law in New York City that would've charged consumers a 5-cent fee for single-use plastic bags.
"Because of Albany's failure to act, cities, towns and counties across our state have been forced to take matters into their own hands," Krueger, D-Manhattan, said. "Worse than that, the legislature and the governor took the unprecedented step of overturning New York City's own proven, effective solution. At the time the governor called for a statewide solution — and that's just what this bill provides."
The lawmakers opted for a 25-cent maximum to ensure consumers wouldn't be charged exorbitant fees. The floor and ceiling for bag fees will also give retailers the ability to set rates that will help offset the costs of providing paper or reusable bags.
Customers who are paying for groceries with Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps, or the Women, Infants and Children program will be exempt from the bag fees.
The statewide prohibition wouldn't apply to carryout bags provided by restaurants or plastic bags used for bulk food, meat and produce.
"After Albany killed New York City's plastic bag fee last year, the state Legislature has an obligation to act on the findings of the governor's plastic bag task force, which showed that a proven statewide model for reducing plastic bag waste is the California model: a ban on single-use plastic bags and a fee on other types of bags, including paper bags, with the proceeds dedicated to the state's Environmental Protection Fund," Hoylman, D-Manhattan, said.
Under Hoylman and Krueger's proposal, 80 percent of the fees collected will go to the state's Environmental Protection Fund. Stores would keep 20 percent of the fees to offset the costs of providing non-plastic bags.
Plastic bag waste is a problem nationwide, and New York is no exception. The state Department of Environmental Conservation said that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags each year. The bags are often sent to landfills or pollute the environment.