Despite having been passed years ago in cities like D.C. and Seattle, NYC still has yet to pass legislation requiring merchants to charge 10 cents for plastic bags. Earlier this week, middle and high school students, along with advocacy groups and city council members, gathered on the steps of City Hall to push for passage of the bill, which will again be up for discussion during a forthcoming committee hearing.
We're also in the midst of "#BYOBag Week," in which participating council members are challenging New Yorkers to avoid using a single disposable bag through September 21. Considering the dismal environmental outlook of the next 15 years, Just Saying No to your local bodega proprietor's plastic bag is a crucial yet facile step in preserving our rapidly deteriorating planet.
As Councilman Brad Lander told Brian Lehrer on Tuesday, 8 million New Yorkers blow through around 5 billion bags per year, which breaks down to around 12 bags per person per week.
"The average New Yorker uses almost two plastic bags a day, and we know we don't need that many of them," he said. "You get that candy bar or apple or banana at the bodega, and they just give you a plastic bag before they say, 'Do you need it?'"
Moreover, plastic bags aren't part of New York's curbside recycling (though state law requires certain retail outlets to accept your used plastic bags for recycling), they don't biodegrade, and they're easy to replace—canvas bags are a readily available alternative, and more durable plastic bags crush into a petite ball, ideal for carrying along for larger shopping trips.
"You're really doing the same thing you would have done, you just have reusable bags and you're not producing this enormous amount of waste," Lander said.
Retailers will be keeping the money they make from the bags, and the charge won't apply for people shopping with food stamps, nor will it apply to restaurants or take-out joints.
And anyway, the council is not discussing banning plastic bags entirely, as California did last month. Still, Lander acknowledged change is difficult, especially when it comes to charging for something that currently comes for free. At present, the bill has 20 cosponsors, and six more are required for a majority. "I'm optimistic we'll get there," the councilman said.
"Any kind of change is challenging. It's exactly that people don't want to pay it that makes me optimistic they'll start bringing reusable bags once it's the law."
Not everyone is so optimistic. Several council members have already made clear their intention not to support the fee for their own disparate reasons.
"If plastic bags are that harmful to the environment, they should be banned outright—not merely available to those who can afford them,” Queens Councilman Rory Lancman told the Post. Councilman Steven Matteo also referred to the proposal a “back-door tax that will disproportionately affect working and middle class New Yorkers.”
The hearing will be held October 8th.