New York Will Ban Plastic Bags, so Why Isn’t Anyone Happy?

The Measure is expected to take effect in 2020

by Jack Archambault


When you go grocery shopping this time next year, make sure to bring your reusable bags. New York lawmakers agreed Friday to a ban on single-use plastic bags from retail sales, making it the second state to enact such a ban after California, which did so in 2016. New York’s ban will go into effect March 1, 2020.

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed the plan a year ago in what has been a steadily evolving stance on single-use plastics. In 2017, Cuomo signed a bill that killed a New York City law that would have placed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags, arguing that the fee would act as a tax on poorer consumers.

The new bill does make exemptions for certain types of plastic bags, such as food takeout bags from restaurants, bags used to wrap deli products, trash bags, and newspaper bags. Additionally, counties will be able to opt in to a 5-cent fee for paper bags, the revenue from which will go to New York’s Environmental Protection Fund. WIC and SNAP recipients will be exempt from the fee.

The bill should be a victory for environmental organizations that have long advocated for a ban on plastic bags as a way to reduce plastic pollution. But, environmentalists are not as pleased with the news as might be expected.

Some environmental groups, such as the New York Public Interest Research Group, feel that the ban is incomplete. While New York will offer an optional 5-cent fee, the lack of a mandatory fee has left the group feeling like the ban will only lead to paper bag litter as opposed to plastic. They said in a statement that “The state should have learned from other areas that also only banned plastic bags without a paper bag fee – they just don’t work.”  

The food industry is also unhappy with the ban. The New York Food Industry Alliance, an organization which represents the majority of the state’s grocers, says it costs more to ship paper bags than plastic since they take up more space. This increase means consumers could have to pay more. Mike Durant, the organization’s president, criticized the decision to allocate the revenue from the fee to environmental funds, saying, “The failure to give even a portion of the 5-cent fee back to the stores, makes this an untenable mandate for many of our members who operate within finite profit margins.”

So, who is happy about this? Frankly, everyone should be. While environmental groups have called the bill incomplete, it is still a necessary and significant step in reducing plastic waste. According to the Wall Street Journal, over 100 billion plastic shopping bags are consumed in the U.S. each year. Of these, Waste Management says only 1 percent are returned for recycling. In addition, plastic bags pose a major risk to wildlife when they are not disposed of properly.

While this bill is but another small step towards tackling the much larger problem of plastic pollution, it is a necessary one. When you go grocery shopping, bring reusable bags, and if you must use plastic bags, make sure to recycle them. Despite the potential cost to businesses that this bill would have, it is a small price to pay in the fight to end the use of single-use plastics.


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