- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday introduced a program bill to ban single-use plastic carryout bags at any point of sale across the state.
- Per the bill memo, the ban would result in a reduction of waste and would save the state an estimated $12.5 million in disposal costs, not including cleanup costs to reduce plastic bag litter. The ban would not apply to plastic bags used to wrap meat or fish, produce bags, deli counter bags, plastic bags sold in bulk, trash bags, garment bags or bags provided by restaurants for carryout food. (See full text of the bill at the bottom of this story.)
- The legislation would also aim to boost educational campaigns to increase consumer awareness of plastic bags' environmental impact. If passed, the bill would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
Cuomo has had a shifting relationship with plastic bag legislation. In 2017, he preempted a locally passed bill that would have imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags in New York City, and then formed the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force a month later. Cuomo said at the time that the negative impact of plastic bags was "a statewide issue that demands a statewide solution," though some saw this as a way of undermining his rival Mayor Bill de Blasio's efforts.
After 10 months, the task force released a report in January 2018 that included eight options for policy — 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 leaders deemed the report as "inconclusive" and a "failure of leadership" by Cuomo.
In February 2018, New York lawmakers introduced a bill that would ban single-use plastic bags and charge for paper or reusable bags. That bill stalled after being referred to the state's Department of Environmental Conservation.
This newest program bill is said to be the result of the January task force report — which actually noted that a ban with no fee or incentive structure could simply lead to higher amounts of paper and thick plastic "reusable" bags being consumed — though some skeptics believe the move was influenced by Cynthia Nixon. Since recently entering the state's Democratic primary for governor, Nixon has publicly called on Cuomo to do more for the environment. New York Magazine reports that, since Nixon entered the race, "Cuomo has suddenly veered to his left, in an unsubtle appeal to win over alienated progressives."
Whatever the motives behind the bill, there is little doubt it would have impact if it becomes law. MRFs across the state have reported spending hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to extricate and dispose of plastic bags. Other cities and states that have banned single-use bags have seen measurable success. However, in order for the bill to be signed into law, it will need to pass the Senate — currently controlled by Republicans and seen as unlikely to move this bill forward.