Controversy Swirls Around Proposed New York Plastic Bag Ban

Last updated: 08-13-2018

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Controversy Swirls Around Proposed New York Plastic Bag Ban

Debate over New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to ban single-use plastic bags in the Empire State is heating up.

Last week, Cuomo introduced a bill that would ban many types of single-use, film plastic bags from being used at grocery stores, convenience stores and the like throughout the state of New York. Such bans can impact the promotional products industry, as they have the potential to stimulate sales of reusable bags like branded totes.

While critics panned Cuomo’s proposal as electioneering (he’s up for re-election), the governor said the bill is aimed at battling plastic bag pollution. “The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment,” Cuomo said in a statement.

Not long after Cuomo introduced his bill, the governor received criticism from both businesses and environmental groups. Wegmans came out against the ban. The privately-held regional supermarket chain headquartered in Rochester, NY, said the prohibition would trigger an increase in the use of paper bags. That’s “not what’s best for the environment,” Wegmans said in a statement. “Paper bags are heavier and take up more space; it takes seven tractor trailers to transport the same number of paper bags as plastic bags carried by one tractor trailer. It also takes about 90% more resources and energy to make and recycle paper compared to plastic.”

The supermarket chain went on to stay it is working to reduce use of plastic bags by encouraging consumers to return the bags to its stores for recycling: “Our plastic bags are made from 40% recycled plastic that is returned to our stores by our own customers, and our recycling rate for plastic bags averaged close to 50% in 2017.”

American Progressive Bag Alliance, an organization that represents the plastic industry, also criticized Cuomo’s proposal. The group said the prohibition would to lead to higher costs for consumers at stores.

Meanwhile, some environmentalists think Cuomo’s proposed ban doesn’t go far enough. Riverkeeper, a New York-based environmental organization, said Cuomo’s proposal should provide for not only a ban on single-use plastic bags, but also a fee on paper bags. “The evidence does not support a ban on plastic with no fee on paper bags,” Riverkeeper’s Jeremy Cherson said in a statement. “The fee on paper is critical to reduce waste and foster a culture of reusable bags.”

Similarly, Eric Goldstein called Cuomo’s plan a flawed solution. “Experience elsewhere has shown that a simple ban on plastic bags leads to much greater use of paper bags – or thicker plastic bags – and doesn’t accomplish the primary objective of triggering a shift to reusables,” Goldstein, NYC environment director for the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit, told

It’s estimated that about 23 billion single-use film plastic bags are handed out in New York every year. Cuomo’s bill would exempt certain types of plastic bags from the ban, including bags used for raw meat, fish or poultry; plastic bags used solely to package bulk items, such as fruits, nuts, grains, candy and other items; bags that contain food sliced to order (think deli meats); bags used to hold newspapers for delivery to a subscriber; plastic bags sold in bulk; and more. Read the full bill here.

Cuomo aims to have the bag ban take effect in January of 2019. Still, it’s anticipated he’ll face an uphill battle to get the legislation passed by the state legislature. Analysts expect the bill to encounter resistance in the state Senate.

California approved a statewide ban on plastic bags in 2016. California also charges a fee for recycled paper bags. Elsewhere, all of Hawaii’s counties have prohibited single-use plastic bags, creating what amounts to a state-wide ban.

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