- A ban on plastic bags in New York State — and a tax on paper bags in some localities, including New York City — will go in effect overnight.
- While the statewide ban will eventually involve fines on businesses as high as $500, the state now says it won’t issue any until April.
- New York will be the second state to outright ban the bags, joining California who enacted the strictest ban on the single-use bags in 2016.
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A bag on plastic pans across the state of New York will go into effect on Monday, March 1, a move environmental activists and state champions behind the measure see as a positive step toward reducing pollution and combating climate change.
“These bags are going to help us have a clean earth and a future for our kids and grandchildren,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at an event in New York City’s Union Square in February, as he discussed the law and handed out reusable bags to city residents, according to a report from NBC New York.
With the help of a plastic bag manufacturer, an association of 6,000 bodega owners in New York City filed a lawsuit against the state over the plan, claiming that the bags prohibited by the state do not meet the standards set by the law, passed last year.
As NBC noted, bodega owners have taken issue with a provision that allows for them to hand out thicker, reusable plastic bags that the “industry says it can’t yet produce,” according to the NBC report.
The lawsuit was, at least in part, the reason that despite the ban going into effect on March 1, the state says it won’t enforce the law until a month later, on April 1. The state said it plans to use the first month to “educate” people about the change.
New York State Supreme Court Justice L. Michael Mackey refused a request to issue a temporary restraining against the law, meaning it will go into effect on Sunday.
A lawyer representing the New York Department of Environmental Conservation agreed to not impose any fines related to the proposal until at least April 1, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“We have consistently said since the beginning of our outreach campaign that we will focus on education rather than enforcement and today does not change that,” a spokesperson for the DEC said.
Businesses in New York would be subject to a fine of up to $500 for each single-use plastic bag issued once the state starts issuing fines under the new law in April. That fine — the maximum — would be issued should a business be found to have violated the law more than once within a calendar year, NBC reported.
While the law allows for single-use paper bags, certain localities — like New York City — have passed companion legislation that imposes a 5 cent tax on the single-use paper bags.
The New York ban follows a California ban enacted in 2016
New York would be just the second US state to ban plastic bags, though similar bans have been instituted by more than 400 cities across the country, according to Vox.
The ban in California has produced mixed results. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted, while it has reduced disposable plastic bag usage in the state by as much as 80 percent, plastic bags are still commonplace in grocery stores and other marketplaces as part of a provision of the law that allows for thicker plastic bags, which are sold for 10 cents.
As the California newspaper noted, while the plastic bags are classified as reusable, as they can be used around 125 times, they often meet the same fate as the banned single-use bags, being tossed in the garbage after just one use.
A San Fransico analyst on the city’s zero-waste initiative told the San Fransisco Chronicle there’s often confusion as to why stores are still using plastic bags at all, as customers are often unaware the thicker bags can be reused.
More than 400 cities nationwide have enacted some sort of legislation aimed at limiting or eliminating single-use plastic bags, either through outright bans or taxes on them. As Vox noted, the most effective of the policies have relied on limits to some plastic products and taxes on other single-use products.
According to the Vox report, outright bans on single-use plastic bags lead to a rise in the usage of paper bags, which also have negative impacts on the environment due to the way they are produced.
In addition to the state-wide bans in California and now New York, the state of Hawaii has also effectively nixed the bags, as all individual counties in the state have all enacted similar bans.
Other —more conservative — states, like Oklahoma and Missippi, however, have taken an opposite approach, passing legislation that prohibits individual localities from banning single-use plastic bags, Vox noted.
According to a DEC estimate, New York state residents use 23 billion plastic bags every year. Most plastic bags wind up in landfills, where they can remain for up to 1,000 years if they don’t end up in oceans, according to a previous Business Insider report.