City Council backs 5-cent paper-bag fee once statewide plastic ban becomes law

NEW YORK —  New Yorkers now have even more reason to carry around their own shopping bags.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

With a state-mandated ban on plastic bags already looming, the New York City Council backed a bill that will require certain vendors to charge a nickel for every paper bag they distribute to customers.

The bill passed 38-9 Thursday morning, and, if approved by Mayor Bill de Blasio, would require certain retailers whose goods are subject to  New York state sales tax to charge a 5-cent fee for each paper bag they hand out to carry goods.

“I do believe that we have to get away from paper bags, too,” de Blasio said on WNYC radio on March 29. “If the fee is what allows us to do it, I could support that.”

Mayor de Blasio signed a similar measure for a 5-cent fee on plastic shopping bags in 2017 but state lawmakers blocked it.

The paper-bag fee is set to go into effect on March 1, 2020, the same day the state’s plastic-bag ban starts, according to Council meeting documents.

Residents who use government-assistance programs like SNAP or WIC will be exempt from the paper-bag fee, according to the details of the legislation.

Supporters on the Council said they are trying to get ahead of a post-plastic ban problem: Customers embracing paper bags in such numbers that it creates a similar amount of waste. The goal is to convince New Yorkers they should bring their own reusable bags whenever they go shopping.

City Councilman Robert Holden (D) – Queens, who voted against the bill Thursday, dismissed the paper-bag fee as a “regressive tax.”

“While ensuring our environment is clean for generations to come, a line must be drawn somewhere. I voted ‘no’ because this legislation will only add more pressure on our senior citizens who already live on a fixed income, and will once again put the burden on the middle class,” Holden said in a statement.

State lawmakers passed the plastic bag ban last month, just 12 hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and fellow Democratic leaders proposed the ban as part of their $175.5 billion budget for the state’s new fiscal year.

The legislation passed allows counties and cities to opt in to the 5-cent paper bag fee the city council voted on Thursday.

According to a press release from Gov. Cuomo’s office in March, 40% of the paper-bag fee revenue would go to local programs to buy reusable bags for low and fixed income consumers, and 60% of the revenue would support programs in the State’s Environmental Protection Fund.

The state law bans most single-use plastic bags provided to customers at supermarkets and other retail businesses. New York is set to become the second state in the nation to have a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

California has had a statewide plastic bag ban since 2016. While all of Hawaii’s counties ban plastic bags, it’s not technically a state-mandated ban.


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