A new law could cost New Yorkers more green for the city to go green.
New York City consumers would be charged 10 cents for each plastic and paper bag used at retail and grocery stores under a bill that will be introduced in the City Council on Thursday.
"It is time for New York to substantially reduce our plastic bag waste!" councilman Brad Lander shouted on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to a loud chorus of approval from environmental activists.
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Every New Yorker uses between 300 and 600 plastic bags a year on average, officials said. The city spends roughly $10 million to dispose of 100,000 tons of plastic bags in landfills each year.
The law would reduce waste by requiring retailers and grocers to charge at least 10 cents for every bag used — double bagging included.
"The nice thing about this charge is that you can avoid it entirely if you bring your reusable bag," said Lander, one of the bill's eight co-sponsors.
The charge would apply to street vendors selling what grocery and retail stores sell, but restaurants would be exempt. Other exceptions include bags that stop meat and produce contamination, as well as pharmacy bags for medicine.
Stores would be required to post signs informing customers of the fee, but retailers won't need to inform them how many bags are used during checkout.
So as to not inadvertently increase paper use, the bill applies to both plastic and paper bags.
The bill builds on other successful plastic bag legislation around the country, where such fees have resulted in a 60 to 90 percent reduction in plastic bag use.
Another of the bill's co-sponsors, councilwoman Margaret Chin, said New York needs to "step up to the plate" and follow other cities.
The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a group run by the Plastics Industry Trade Association, called the fee a "tax" and noted plastic retail bags are recyclable.
"A 10-cent per bag tax would be a detriment to hardworking families and businesses trying to make ends meet," the alliance said in a statement on the proposed legislation.
The bill's proponents flatly denied this assertion, noting customers using food stamps are except from the fee. Businesses also keep the entire fee and intensive record-keeping isn't required.
The alliance also reported that reusable bags have to be used 131 times before having a smaller environmental impact than regular plastic bags.
"The key is that reusable bags are reused," Lander said in response. "A huge number of the plastic bags just have one use."
Before the bill is implemented, the city will work with grocery stores and other private companies to distribute reusable bags.
Lander also said he was confident that "technology" would allow stores to charge per-bag in self-checkouts, too, but did not elaborate.
This isn't the first time the city has attempted to reduce plastic bag use.
Five years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed similar legislation that would require stores to charge customers a 6-cent fee for each plastic bag. One cent would go to the store, the rest would go to the city.
Lander said Bloomberg's legislation fell flat because it ran into legal troubles. A fee can be passed by the City Council, but taxes are subject to approval from the State Legislature.
"What the mayor was actually proposing was a tax," Lander said. "There's some legal questions there about whether the city actually has the power to do that or whether that takes action in Albany."
A spokesman from Bloomberg's office said they were looking at the legislation.
The new bill's sponsors said the fee represents the city's push toward a more environmentally friendly future.
"It puts the whole city in a different mindset," said councilwoman Gale Brewer.
For this reason, a handful of community and environmental groups applauded the proposed law.
Jordan Christensen, the Hudson Valley coordinator of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said that disposable bags clog storm drains and kill tens of thousands of fish, birds, whales and other creatures every year.
"These bags aren't 'free,'" Christensen said. "We can finally retire the old joke that the New York City flower is a plastic bag in a tree."
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