Next week, City Council will vote on whether or not shoppers should be required to pay five cents for plastic and paper bags.

It's a controversial bill that's been batted around for a couple of years, and the tax has gotten watered down from 10 cents a bag to 5. The extra nickels will go directly back to the stores themselves. It's expected to cut down the nearly 10 billion plastic bags the city runs through per year by about 60 percent, and it's been backed by council members like Brad Lander, Margaret Chin, and more recently, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who announced her support for the bill this week.

Still, it's had its detractors. Critics say the fee will negatively impact poor New Yorkers, though people who use food stamps will not have to pay the extra charge for their purchases. Bags used for medication and prepared foods from restaurants will also be exempt, along with bags grocery store customers use to individually wrap produce, meat and the like. But City Council Member Robert Cornegy Jr. has taken his name off the bill for reasons unknown, and though the mayor's office seems to support the bill, announcing this week that "the City will be working with retail associations and retailers to provide free reusable bags to New Yorkers in advance of this fee going into effect," we've been down this road before.

The United States disposes of about 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually, ten percent of which seems to come from this city alone, if the numbers are right. It's true that this is a walking city, and it's much harder to transport un-bagged groceries from place to place when you can't just throw your purchases in the trunk of your car. But when grocery stores are triple-bagging single jars of tomato sauce all willy-nilly, it's not insane to try to come up with a way to cut back on all that waste, even if it does cost you the odd nickel or two when you don't have a big enough reusable bag with you.

Mark-Viverito offered the following statement regarding her support of the fee:

New York City is a global leader in efforts to ensure a healthy and environmentally-responsible future. From dramatically reducing emissions to strengthening green building standards, we have never shied away from advancing these important goals. Our approach to reducing plastic bag waste must be equally bold, and we must join efforts by cities across the country and around the world to tackle this issue head-on. The legislation before the Council does just that, by incentivizing New Yorkers to bring our own bags - with commonsense exemptions for economic and logistical realities faced by consumers and retailers. For too long, plastic bags have clogged our storm drains, littered our greenspaces, and tangled in our trees. With this legislation, we can take a step toward a cleaner and sustainable city.

The Council will vote on the bill on May 5th. Council Member Laurie Cumbo will host a Town Hall meeting at the Ingersoll Community Center, 177 Myrtle Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn, on Tuesday evening if you're interested in having your voice heard.