6 Cents Per Plastic Bag: New York City's Mayor Wants Everyone to Pay Up

plastic bag skyline photo

photo: d.billy

The latest in a series of environmental initiatives undertaken by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg takes on plastic bags. Already the city requires that pretty much any store which gives customers plastic shopping bags also accept them back to be recycled. The Mayor’s most recent plan would go one step further and require stores to charge 6 cents per plastic bag used (the city would get 5 cents of that, with a penny going to the store). Here are some more details, such as there are, on the Mayor’s plan:
Semantics: It’d Be A Fee, Not a Tax
Though for procedural reasons the plan is not being pitched as a tax, but rather a fee—the former would require approval at the state level, while the latter could be approved by the City Council —the end result could be the same: Reduced use of plastic shopping bags, and presumably increased use of reusable bags.

Start Complaining, Details to Come
According to The New York Times the details of the how the plan would be implemented, enforced, and the monies collected distributed have yet to be determined, but that hasn’t prevented critics of the move from speaking out.

Fee Not High Enough, Fee Too High
Among the viewpoints citied in the NYT piece were: The fee will have to be higher for a change in public behavior to take place (25 cents per page being the threshold cited), it will disproportionately effect the poor, and the usual ‘taxes are increasing everywhere else so why add this one to the list’.

Of those, it seems the first is the greatest concern. If the idea is to get people to carry their own shopping bags then the fee for plastic ones has to be high enough to influence behavior.

In regards to the idea that this will be just more financial burden to people who can’t afford it, that holds true only in the broadest possible stroke. Upon closer examination it doesn’t really hold water: There’s no reason why if you can’t afford a reusable shopping bag or two that you can’t reuse the plastic bags you just bought for 6 cents a piece. How many do you ever need at a given time? Even accounting for damaged bags, $5 is likely to get you a year’s worth of bags.

Perhaps part of the estimated $16 million that the program would raise in the first year could go to providing free or sharply discounted resusable shopping bags to lower income people?

Most Important: Get People Out of the Disposable Product Mindset
The important thing is getting people out of the mindset that plastic is something to be lightly used and disposed. So, discounting the as yet to be finalized details, kudos to Mayor Bloomberg for having his head in the right place on this one.

More on people’s pro/con viewpoints at: The New York Times
Paper, Plastic or Reusable?
Paper Bags or Plastic Bags? Everything You Need to Know
China Launches Crackdown on Plastic Bags
Another Plastic Bag Free ‘Village’

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