New York State Plastic Bag Waste Reduction Act to Begin on March 1st

Christopher Owen

New state law will go into effect in New York on March 1, 2020, and aims to reduce water and land pollution by banning single-use plastic bags. Over 23 billion of this type of bag are used each year in New York alone. In the U.S., over 100 billion single-use plastic bags are used annually and this requires 12 million barrels of oil (fossil fuel) for their production.  Nearly all of these bags end up in landfills where they do not biodegrade or in waterways where they kill marine species. Governor Cuomo said, “Right this minute, plastic bags are hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, filling up our landfills, polluting our lakes, rivers and streams-all hurting our environment.” It is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the world’s oceans than fish. Plastic bags also interfere with wastewater treatment plants, threaten fish and wildlife and break down into microplastics, which absorb toxins and leach chemicals. When ingested by wildlife, these chemicals and toxins bioaccumulate up the food chain to humans.

 

This ban was initially supposed to begin in January of this year but was pushed back to give state residents time to recycle leftover plastic bags and prepare for the change from this new law by buying reusable bags. The new law applies to grocery stores, clothing stores, home improvement stores, and all other retail stores collecting sales tax. Stores are not required to have bags for customers. Some stores may not choose to switch to paper (which can cost 5 cents per bag) and may only have reusable bags to purchase. Plastic bags may still be distributed to consumers in some specific circumstances such as when purchasing prescription drugs, produce in bulk like vegetables and fruits, trash bags, food storage bags (snack, sandwich, quart, and gallon sizes), dry cleaning, home delivery of newspapers, restaurant carryout and the delivery of food. 

 

New York State is still discussing the idea of allowing thicker single-use plastic bags, which are more durable and can be used more than once. But this idea does not remove the  environmental concerns relating to single-use plastic bags. Environmental groups are urging New York State officials to continue with the single-use plastic bag ban rather than addressing the issue by changing the composition of the bags themselves. Yet other groups are opposing the ban in its entirety stating that single-use plastic bags make it easy to carry things around and banning the use of them will require people to buy reusable bags instead. One way or another, everyone will be affected by the upcoming New York state ban on single-use plastic bags. But with the signs of distress from our planet, the ban is necessary to help our environment in the long run.