- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has once again proposed a ban on plastic bags throughout the state, according to a press release regarding his upcoming 2019 Executive Budget.
- The release includes no other specific details beyond saying the state's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will work to ensure it "does not disproportionately impact low and moderate income and environmental justice communities through the distribution of reusable bags and exemptions where appropriate."
- Cuomo is also proposing an expansion of the state's bottle bill to include "sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable beverages and ready-to-drink teas and coffee." DEC will conduct a study with industry and retailers on another potential expansion for wine and liquor bottles.
While the bottle bill news, which Cuomo's press release prioritizes, is notable, the bag proposal is already commanding the lion's share of attention due its contentious recent history.
In 2017, the governor preempted a bag bill passed by New York City — calling it "deeply flawed" due in part to a 5-cent fee — and instead established a task force to study statewide policy options. The initial local legislation was one of the New York City Council's most hard-fought votes in recent years, so this was viewed as a setback — especially considering other local bag laws had gone untouched in the state.
In early 2018, Cuomo's task force released an inconclusive report estimating that more than 23 billion bags are used in the state each year. A group of state legislators introduced new ban legislation shortly after, but Cuomo decided to pitch his own unsuccessful program bill later that spring. Many attributed the renewed interest to a looming primary challenge from his left. Cuomo was later re-elected to a third term in the fall.
What spurred this latest round of bag interest isn't immediately clear. Due to the lack of specifics, some of the state's leading environmental groups remain cautiously optimistic. A joint statement from three groups did emphasize their preference for a hybrid ban-fee model, which the governor hasn't supported in the past.
Key details to watch for in the budget legislation will include any potential fee structure, details on paper bags, criteria for covered retail establishments and an implementation schedule. Based on past experiences, MRF operators and local public works agencies are likely to support the concept of a ban.
The bottle bill proposal can also be expected to raise significant discussion and lobbying in the months to come. Similar expansion proposals — such as a failed 2014 ballot referendum in Massachusetts — have spurred expensive fights in the past. Beverage companies have often resisted expansions. Some in the recycling industry are also uneasy, as they face the prospect of losing reliable, traditionally profitable material from the stream.
Cuomo's press release claims this "will also help reduce sorting and financial burdens on local government recycling programs," though the joint statement from environmental groups also says they "want to be sure this approach will not harm municipal recycling programs around the state."
In addition to the relevant details for these two proposals, another area to watch for in Cuomo's full budget proposal is any mention of food waste. The governor has unsuccessfully proposed a commercial organics diversion mandate for the past two years. This press release about his overall recycling priorities makes no mention of a possible third attempt. The deadline for budget approval by New York's state legislature is April 1.