Climate Action

What You Need to Know About New York State’s Plastic Bag Ban

By Camille Wejnert-Depue Members of the New York State legislature recently finalized ideas and a formal structure to the statewide budget plan. This plan included new tolls on motorists driving into the busiest parts of Manhattan as well as a huge environmental win: a statewide ban on plastic bags. In talks to improve the budget plan, an agreement was reached and officially announced banning most single-use plastic bags provided by supermarkets and other stores starting March 1, 2020. This ban comes with an additional option for individual counties to charge a five-cent tax on paper bags, with two of the five cents going to fund local governments, while the remaining three will go to the New York State Environmental Protection Fund. With this ban in place, New York joins California as the second state with an official ban on plastic bags. The state of Hawaii also has a de facto ban, with plastic bags banned in all of its counties, although the ban is not mandated by the state. “The convenience of plastic bags is simply not worth the environmental impact,” said Representative Heastie (D-Yonkers, NY). “By reducing our state’s usage, we will see less litter in our communities and less plastic pollution in our waterways.” While the ban serves as a major symbolic step forward in phasing out single-use plastics, complications remain, as the ban doesn’t address the widespread plastic use of restaurant takeout bags, garbage bags, and plastic food packaging, among other things. Additional concern has been raised about how the ban on single-use plastic bags and the paper bag tax will have significant financial and logistical implications in their daily lives of those in disadvantaged communities of New York State. 16,000 plastic bags are used globally every second, with five trillion being produced yearly. Plastic bags harm the environment as well as our species. In 2008, a sperm whale was found beached in California. The cause of its death was more than 22 kilos of plastic found in its stomach. Similarly in 2018, another whale was found dead in Southern Spain, also filled with 64 pounds of plastic. While some industries may argue that plastic bags are an inexpensive or even recyclable option, most home and curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic bags. In fact, plastic bags can jam or slow curbside recycling efforts; when plastic bags do get mixed in with other recyclables, they can be difficult to sort out and often jam or damage the machines at materials recovery facilities, slowing the overall recycling process. Instead, plastic bags often must be collected at large-chain grocery stores. Studies have shown that only 1-3% of plastic bags are recycled worldwide, with the average plastic bag only starting to degrade after 700 years, and fully degrading after 1,000 years.
What can you personally do to reduce your plastic waste? Use our plastic calculator to get started.
Photo Credit: Ben Mierement, NOAA NOS (ret.)