Op-Ed By Councilman Chaim Deutsch: Are Plastic Bags The New Bail Reform?

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Your grocery shopping experience is about to get a lot more expensive, thanks to onerous new regulations imposed by New York State lawmakers.

Particularly for large families, a typical grocery visit can cost hundreds of dollars. These costs are only growing to grow, as the “plastic bag ban”/”paper bag tax” takes effect on March 1st.

This is going to impact your life in a very real way.

Aside from a few minor exceptions, all plastic single-use carryout bags will be banned. (Notable exemptions: restaurant bags, pre-packaged bags {like trash bags}, and produce bags.) Paper bags will be offered as a disposable option, but each bag will cost the consumer at least five cents, with larger sizes costing as much as twenty cents – meaning that families will see their grocery charges rising.

The state is urging shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. This becomes a hardship, and unlikely for someone shopping for a large family. Many grocery stores offer a delivery option, but there too, the costs will grow. Most supermarkets in our district will begin to charge $7.50 for delivery, as well as charging for each individual box. This will add up quickly, with medium to large families incurring charges upwards of five hundred dollars a year!

No matter the size of the family, this new ban/tax will impose a financial burden – and a hassle – on all New Yorkers, many of whom are working multiple jobs and long hours to put food on their family’s table. Some of our state’s most vulnerable – our seniors and people with disabilities – will be hardest hit, making it even more difficult for them to thrive within our communities.

I care about the environment, and I certainly applaud anyone who chooses to utilize reusable bags in place of plastic or paper. But I strongly believe that consumers should be offered the choice, not compelled. But is the state the appropriate regulator of how private businesses conduct their operations? Does the state have a right to interfere with the private exchange between a customer and a service provider? Legally – yes, they do. But in examining the intentions of the new law – to make our state more environmentally conscientious – I don’t see this having the desired impact.

A 2007 comprehensive study conducted by the Australian government about the environmental impacts of bags found that paper bags have a higher carbon footprint than plastic. This is primarily because more energy is required to produce and transport paper bags. So as I see it, the benefits of outlawing plastic bags will likely be outweighed by the negatives of increasing the paper bag output of our state. When we add the extra costs, the burden on families, and the upheaval this is causing business owners – is it really worth it?

For store-owners, particularly small mom and pop style establishments, this new ban is going to make it more expensive and difficult to run their businesses. Many of them have back stock of plastic bags, which they are now unable to use. They also will now have the added expenses of purchasing paper bags, as well as likely having to hire more workers for deliveries, as more people choose that option for larger shopping trips. These costs will certainly be passed on to customers. I am also keenly aware that the state has not made any significant effort to contact store owners to explain the new regulations, leaving business owners confused, and susceptible to violations for offenses they may not even realize they are committing.

When the city version of this legislation came before the New York City Council, I joined a number of my colleagues in voting against it. I also was the only member of the City Council to testify in opposition of the bag tax at a State hearing on the subject in June of 2016. My opposition to this legislation is, simply put, that the ban/tax is putting an unfair financial strain on lower and middle income families. I do not dispute that plastic bags are bad for the environment – in fact, I encourage you to stop by my office at 2401 Avenue U during business hours to receive a free reusable bag. That said, I remain seriously concerned about the wide-reaching impacts that this ban/tax will have on our city’s economy. If we’ve learned anything from thfe state’s failure with bail reform, it should be that even the best of intentions can result in disaster if there is poor implementation. In other words: either do it right, or don’t do it at all.

Facts about the ban/tax:

  • In general, single-use plastic bags are banned. There are exceptions, such as plastic produce or meat bags, pre-packaged bags (such as Ziplocs or trash bags), dry cleaning bags, restaurant carryout bags, or very thick plastic bags.
  • Paper bags will be the only disposable option, and will be taxed at five cents apiece. (Stores can also offer cardboard boxes, but most charge for that option.)
  • Of the five cent tax, two cents will go towards purchase and distribution of reusable bags. Three cents will go towards the State’s Environmental Protection Fund.
  • If you pay using SNAP or WIC, you will not be charged any paper bag fees.



16 COMMENTS

  1. The bag ban is a terrible idea. I know elderly people that can’t use the reusable bags because they are to big and clumsy. They are on a fixed income and many people use these shopping bags for garbage bags in the kitchen and bathroom. Their monthly bill is going to go up, but they cat afford it. One lady I know would walk an extra block or two just to save a nickel on a yogurt. She has a walker so how can she carry a big brown bag? This law is horrible.

  2. My local supermarket has 3 large reusable bas for $2.00. Buying a few of these bags are not a hardship for anyone. And each bag holds much more the the small plastic ones so fewer bags are needed per trip

    Stop your FUD.

  3. Does the state have a right to interfere with the private exchange between a customer and a service provider? Legally – yes, they do.

    Morally the state has no such right. “Legally” just means “the state says”, so obviously the state gives itself as many rights as it can get away with.

  4. Why does Amazon have the right to ship every small item in a separate box ? The government is shutting down local businesses. Then they want to charge landlords for having empty stores.

  5. What can we do, the Askanim tell us to vote for these people…….Every issue that we don’t like, if you check you will see that an Asken told us to vote for that lawmaker. Come election time they will again tell us to vote for; Shummer, Nadler, and all of the rest. We need new lawmakers and askonim.

  6. > WgFPD2

    Large bags are clumsy for “small” or elderly people. But further, the disposable plastic bags are used for other things (like garbage) – often multiple times – which now will require the consumer to buy packaged bags, like garbage bags, which have been shown to be worse for the environment than the small plastic bags. And one example of things that should be known but rarely are known is the following: plastic bags (especially those in Canada) are made from the by-products (“waste”) of other processes, like natural gas production that heat our homes here in the frozen north. So nothing is gained by NOT creating plastic bags simply because the by-products, if not used for these plastic bags, would go to waste anyway.

  7. I used to re-use the plastic bags by keeping them in the car when any of my kids got car sick or if the baby needed to have a diaper change. Not anymore, I don’t have the money right now to pay for bags. Now we will pull over and they will throw up on the side of the road and we will leave the soiled diapers there as well. Without a bag, they are not staying in my car until we find the closest trash can! The tax collection on the bags can go toward cleaning up the vomit and diapers!

  8. ANd then the environmentalists will complain that too many trees are being cut down to produce those paper bags. The ban is stupid and I would vote out any city council member who voted for it.

  9. jerkoq12: Cardboard boxes are recycled, and you did vote on this when you elected your public officials.

    Common sense person: She is not going to use a brown bag, she is going to use a reusable shopping bag, she can get it for free, you could be a good neighbor and get one or two for her if you are so concerned. As in the article Chaim Deutsch is giving them out for free.

  10. To, WgFPD2.
    Not a hardship on anyone!!! You must be young and rich. How about the older people on a fixed income, those who can’t manipulate a big bag, those who actually do reuse shopping bags for many other things, how about those who use walkers , or a cane to shop. Stop and think please before you say that it’s not a hardship on ANYONE. Shame on you. In general, never tell someone else what’s hard for them or not. You are not in their shoes.

  11. Common sense person:

    You do know that there are other states that have had plastic bag bans for awhile now and you know what, seniors are doing just fine in those states. In a month knowing will know the difference from before the ban.