- New York's Plastic Bag Task Force recently released a report that included eight options for statewide policy with no definitive recommendations. Led by Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos, the six-member group included two state legislators and three representatives from retail, environmental and county government interests.
- The options include expanding current plastic bag recycling systems, requiring some form of manufacturer responsibility, banning single-use bags outright, three versions of a fee, one hybrid ban-fee option, or making no changes at all.
- New York League of Conservation Voters President Marcia Bystryn dissented from the report because she felt its recommendations were inconclusive, as reported by The Citizen. New York Council Member Brad Lander, a co-sponsor of the city's original $0.05 fee bill, called the report a "failure of leadership" by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. When asked by Gotham Gazette whether he would reintroduce legislation, Lander was unsure, saying, “I feel like trying again here would be like Charlie Brown and the football and it just doesn't make sense."
The mere existence of this task force is a source of frustration for environmental advocates and many have been skeptical of what it would end up delivering. Gov. Cuomo formed the group in March 2017 after signing a law that delayed the implementation of the city's bill until at least 2018. This local law was originally passed in May 2016 and followed by months of back-and-forth with state legislators that described it as a burdensome overreach.
By delaying possible action until January 2018 the state legislature was effectively forcing New York to start over because new members would be taking office that month following the 2017 election. While newly elected Speaker Corey Johnson voted for the 2016 bill, and Mayor Bill de Blasio is also on board, all involved recognize that passing another bill to just be preempted by Albany again might be futile.
Meanwhile, Suffolk County's own plastic bag fee was allowed to take effect Jan. 1, with no interference and the report shows that other local governments have previously enacted their own policies. Yet like with a pending ban on expanded polystyrene products, the packaging industry is strongly opposed to letting any policies get passed in the country's largest city because it could be seen as a precedent for others looking to do the same.
This has led for a push to enact preemption laws in at least nine other states so far, with the potential for Texas to make 10, and ongoing efforts to stall the recent momentum in states such as Massachusetts.
Amid all of this debate about which policies are most effective, who should keep the fees, or how successful current drop-off recycling efforts have been, it's clear from this report that the current situation has room for improvement. The DEC estimates that 23 billion bags are used in New York each year and the current diversion rate is lower than desired. New York City alone spends an estimated $12.5 million each year to dispose of bags and multiple MRFs in the state reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to extricate and dispose of bags themselves.