NEW YORK – Seen as a massive achievement in terms of safeguarding the environment, lawmakers in New York have included a measure in their F – 2020 $175.5 billion budget plan that would effectively ban all single-use plastic bags in the state as of March 1, 2020. The bill passed on the Assembly 100 to 42, and Senate 39 to 22, according to reports.
New York follows California and Hawaii as the third U.S. state to pass an all-encompassing single-use plastic bag ban thus far. As part of the “Transportation, Economic Development, and Environmental Conservation” budget bill , New Yorkers will see supermarkets, retail stores, and other merchants doing away with single-use plastic bags; however, the legislation does not cover restaurant take-out order bags or bags used to package raw meat, produce, or prescription drug orders from pharmacies.
Retailers will still have the ability to offer paper bags to their customers, however, counties and cities in New York State have the ability to opt-in to a 5-cent per bag paper bag tax, with 40 percent of the funds generated from the tax going to support programs which provide reusable bags for low-and-fixed income consumers; the remaining 60 percent of the tax will support the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. Residents who receive financial and food-based assistance from the state – including SNAP and WIC – will be exempt from the tax.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo initially blocked a proposed 5-cent plastic bag fee in New York City in 2017, drawing the ire of environmentalists; conversely, Cuomo then introduced a bill to ban plastic bags outright in 2018, a move that he called “long overdue.”
Because plastic bags are so durable, this makes them a concern for the environment as they do not break down and as a result are harmful to wildlife. Each year millions of discarded plastic shopping bags end up as plastic waste litter in the environment when improperly disposed of. The same properties that have made plastic bags so commercially successful and ubiquitous – namely their low weight and resistance to degradation – have also contributed to their proliferation in the environment. Due to their durability, plastic bags can take centuries to decompose; it can take between 500 – 1,000 years for a plastic shopping bag to break down. Ironically, the useful lifespan of a bag is approximately 12 minutes.
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Traditional plastic bags are usually made from polyethylene, which consists of long chains of ethylene monomers. Ethylene is derived from natural gas and petroleum. Reusable shopping bags made from fabric such as canvas, natural fibers such as Jute, woven synthetic fibers are more environmentally friendly than disposable plastic bags while allowing multiple uses.
While environmental advocates have applauded the measure, some have nonetheless decried the “optional” 5-cent paper bag tax, noting that many consumers will merely switch exclusively to paper bag use as opposed to feeling compelled to switch over to reusable fabric bags for their shopping needs. Many are hoping that local municipalities will choose to opt-in to the 5-cent paper bag fee as a way of shepherding residents towards reusable bags via a financial incentive, as even paper bags – while not as environmentally damaging as plastics – are very water and carbon intensive, according to experts.
Several countries, regions, and cities have enacted legislation to ban or severely reduce the use of disposable plastic shopping bags. Outright bans have been introduced in some countries, notably China and Chile, which banned very thin plastic bags nationwide in 2008. Several other countries impose a tax at the point of sale.