Image source: LA Times
Get your reusable bags ready because a plastic bag fee is likely coming to New York City. The fee is part of an effort to prevent plastic bags from polluting our environment. Large corporations, politicians, and everyday shoppers, like you and me, have resisted proposals to charge shoppers for plastic bags (NY Times, 2017). But it is important to learn about why this is beneficial for the environment. We will see that it is not as catastrophic as we think.
Plastic bags are expected to outweigh fish in the ocean by the year 2050 and 80% of that plastic was originally “land-based trash” (NYSPBTF Report, 2018:2). As if that’s not motivating enough, the economics behind this say that businesses spend up to $4 billion each year on purchasing plastic bags. That’s along with recyclable handling recovery facilities spending amounts ranging from $250K to $750K in maintenance and cleaning due to plastic bags (NYSPBTF Report, 2018:2).
The bill to charge 5 cents per plastic bag was originally introduced by City Council in 2014. Ongoing development between the City Council, the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, and the Mayor, included several hearings, amendments, and approvals. It was finally passed over two years later on June 5, 2016.
The law requiring a fee of 5 cents per bag was supported by our City’s Council members as well as our Mayor, Bill de Blasio, so what could possibly go wrong? The plastic bag fee was killed before it even launched. (NY Times, 2017). The new law was rescinded by Governor Andrew Cuomo when he signed a bill that killed the fee immediately. He felt it was “deeply flawed” as it allowed business owners to keep the 5 cents which could amount to $100 million in profits (McKinley, 2017).
Image source: NY Post
Not only did Cuomo insist on revamping the law, but he suggested making the plastic bag fee statewide. Cuomo promises direction, giving some hope to environmentalists and the City Council members who say they felt defeated by state government and “characterized the move as a classic case of Albany’s overreach” (McKinley, 2017).
But what do shoppers think of the plastic bag fee? I interviewed a frequent shopper about the potential statewide legislation. She expressed to me that she did majority of the food shopping in her household and always used plastic bags to take home. When I asked her about a plastic bag fee of 5 cents per bag she stated, “I feel the plastic bag fee should be imposed. It would push more people to start using reusable bags.” We spoke on how the legislation would prevent plastic pollution and she completely supported the cause. A much more optimistic shopper than I had anticipated, Ms. Alamo also was ready to make the switch to reusable bags exclusively.
A consumer’s opinion on the plastic bag fee depends on his or her environmental consciousness. Voters need to understand why decisions are being made and how they actually affect them—without that there may always be a pushback (NY Times, 2017).
The questions that consumers need to be answered include:
• What’s wrong with single-use plastic?
• How are plastic bags affecting the environment?
• How will the plastic bag fee help?
The New York State Plastic Bag Task Force Report: An Analysis of the Impact of Single-Use Plastic Bags covers all of these questions in detail. It provides information for each legislation option, giving business owners choices with how to apply the plastic bag fee including pros and cons. The legislative options also explore the tedious details with strengthening existing recycling, enforcing manufacturer responsibility, bag fees, etc.
Image source: NYC Plastic Bag Report
What’s wrong with single-use plastic and how are plastic bags affecting the environment? The report answers exactly that, plastic bags are already creating a number of problems we can see for ourselves today (NYSPBTF Report, 2018:2). They are made from fossil fuels from being manufacturing to being distributed to businesses. They are found littered on land, in small waterways, and in large bodies of water. Plastic pollution affects wildlife by disturbing natural habitats and life cycle events. This can be from littering or due to chemicals leeching out from the plastic (NYSPBTF Report, 2018: 2).
With considering that heavy load of information, we need to start thinking like conscious consumers. But people are afraid of what could be the negative results from a plastic bag fee. Assemblyman Luis R. Sepulveda says, “A 5-cent tax is a burden on many of our poor people and many of our seniors” (NY Times, 2017). Some are concerned with paying and some do not want their convenience to be tampered with.
In 2016, the state of California imposed both a “flimsy, single-use plastic bag” ban and also a plastic bag fee that charged consumers 10-cents for a “thicker, reusable plastic bag” (LA Times, 2017). Although there was initially push back, ideas of reusable bags causing bacterial outbreaks, and thoughts of low-income families not being to afford a plastic bag, no one went broke. The plastic bags in collected litter in California also went down from 7.4% of plastic bags in litter to 3.1% of plastic bags in litter. (LA Times, 2017).
Image source: NYC Plastic Bag Report
California has shown New York City it is possible. Instead of worrying about the mass hysteria of shoppers, we need to consider our city’s environmental health. With 8.5 million people, it is New York City’s duty to follow standards that protect our environment.
This year, it seems that New York’s Governor Cuomo may finally be getting it. A recent article by the New York Post stated that Cuomo is “considering a statewide ban on plastic bags to help curb unnecessary trash” (New York Post, 2018). Although it isn’t a commitment on a plastic bag fee, it is a step in the right direction. Could you imagine New York City becoming a leader in the environmental movement?
Alamo, Liza. Personal interview. 01 May 2018.
Campanile, Carl. “Cuomo considering statewide ban on plastic bags.” New York Post, Mar 2018. May 2018. https://nypost.com/2018/03/05/cuomo-considering-statewide-ban-on-plastic-bags/.
McKinley, Jesse. “Cuomo Blocks New York City Plastic Bag Law.” The New York Times, Feb 2017. May 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/14/nyregion/cuomo-blocks-new-york-city-plastic-bag-law.html.
The Times Editorial Board. “It’s been a year since California banned single-use plastic bags. The world didn’t end.” The Los Angeles Times, Nov 2017. May 2018. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-plastic-bag-ban-anniversary-20171118-story.html.
United States, Department of Environmental Conservation. New York State Plastic Bag Task Force Report: An Analysis of the Impact of Single-Use Plastic Bags. New York State, 13 Jan 2018.