Disposable bag bill promotes a greener, cleaner, healthier New York City

Single-use bags make up an estimated 1,700+ tons of residential trash per week in NYC.  (CREDIT: Zainub Razvi/Flickr)
© Single-use bags make up an estimated 1,700+ tons of residential trash per week in NYC. (CREDIT: Zainub Razvi/Flickr)

By initiating legislation to help reduce plastic and paper bag usage, New York has an opportunity to be part of a national trend to be a greener, more sustainable city.

By Kizzy Charles-Guzman, Policy Director for The Nature Conservancy's New York City Program

New Yorkers use and discard a staggering 10 billion disposable, single-use bags every year. Many of those bags are never recycled because there is a limited market for plastic bag recycling in the United States. Simply put, it is more costly and difficult to recycle a plastic bag than to produce a new one.

As a result, New York City’s Department of Sanitation estimates that they collect more than 1,700 tons of single-use bags in residential trash, spending our tax dollars—more than $12 million per year—to dispose of it in landfills in other states. In response, several city council members and a variety of groups are backing a new bill that aims to reduce paper and plastic bag usage by charging consumers ten cents per bag at most stores.
© Opting for reusable shopping bags instead of disposable plastic or paper ones could help reduce NYC's waste and pollution.

Enacting this legislation would be a victory for our communities, especially those that have significant issues with litter. New Yorkers see these bags floating through our streets, hanging from our trees, polluting our rivers, beaches and parks, and clogging our storm drains, which worsens flooding when it rains.

Globally, plastic bags have a significant ecological impact. They are derived from petroleum and their production, transportation and disposal contribute to climate change. They also take hundreds of years to degrade, threatening marine species and even public health, as their toxic components move up the food chain. In short, disposable bags are bad news all around. If New York City is going to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by the year 2050, as promised by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council, measures like this are critical to help us get there.

Despite critics, City Council’s proposal is not a regressive tax on New Yorkers of limited means. All households, including those of modest means, can avoid the fee by using reusable bags. How many times have we gone to a local bodega, bought a candy bar, and received a plastic bag for it? As consumers we are in full control of this fee, and free to choose to not have our groceries double-bagged, for example, at times when using a reusable bag just isn’t possible.

It’s worth mentioning that there are cases in which consumers will be exempt from paying the fee. New Yorkers paying with food stamps or buying medicines at pharmacies will not have to pay the fee. Emergency food providers—like food pantries—are also exempt from charging the fee, as are restaurants and mobile food vendors. Finally, this proposal would actually require our local government to conduct a widespread distribution of free, reusable bags to the public, targeting low-income neighborhoods.

© iStock
This is one area in which New York City is not leading the way. More than 100 cities and countries around the world have already implemented different kinds of disposable bag fees, taxes, or bans and, in doing so, have experienced great success in waste reduction. For years Washington, DC has been charging five cents per disposable bag, and the city has reduced its use by over 60%. Similarly, Los Angeles has achieved an impressive 90% reduction in plastic bag use.

With so many places adopting laws to reduce the use of disposable bags, New York has an opportunity to be part of a national trend to be a greener, more sustainable city. This bill would allow us to take the lessons we’ve learned from other cities—the strategies that work—and implement the best ideas here.

A greener, greater New York City? Yes, please! If you agree that NYC should lead the way in New York State to adopt the disposable bag bill you can:

    • Write a letter to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, saying you support Intro 209-2014 and mail it to: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Hall, New York, NY, 10007. • Email the mayor through the New York League of Conservation Voters website • Call the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit at 212-788-7418 or Tweet at him: @BilldeBlasio to tell him you support Intro 209-2014 to reduce disposable bag waste.

Tags: Environmental Policy | New York City | Plastic Bags | Pollution | Recycling | Reusability


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