Free paper and plastic bags from grocery and retail stores may one day be a thing of the past if a bill introduced Wednesday by the New York City Council is approved. In an effort to reduce litter, the Big Apple is getting some extra incentive to go green by a proposal that would cost shoppers 10 cents a bag if they did not bring their own reusable bags with them.
The city’s 8 million residents bring home 5.2 billion plastic bags a year. Some of the bags end up as litter on beaches and city streets; others get stuck in storm drains which causes flooding. Even for bags that do not end up as litter, they still have to be shipped to landfills. All of that costs money. The City of New York ends up spending approximately $10 million a year disposing of plastic bags.
Some store owners are concerned that if the bill passes, it could keep customers away. A similar proposal had been introduced last year but it did not pass. With the new city council members who took office this January, 19 are in favor of it. The vote is expected to take place within a few weeks, giving those who have not yet made a decision time to review it. Officials have stated that the 10-cent charge is not another tax. Instead, the money would be given back to the store owner to help cover the cost of supplying plastic bags. There would also be some exceptions to the fee such as bags supplied by street vendor carts and people who rely on public assistance.
The cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. have already implemented steps to cut down on plastic bags. The fee in D.C. has been in place since January 1, 2010. New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio said that reducing the number and usage of plastic bags should be a goal.
Plastic bags have been around since the 1970s. Their success has also resulted in more litter in the rivers, oceans and land, and more animals getting choked. This is not just a problem within the United States. Before any of the American cities considered adding fees for the use of plastic bags, other countries were already doing that. Ireland started charging for plastic bags in 2002. Australia, China and Italy are a few of the countries that have laws in place.
Over the past few years, many grocery stores have been selling reusable bags. Wal-Mart started selling black bags in 2007 and the blue ones in 2008. According to their fact sheet, Wal-Mart’s heavier black bag can hold up to 35 pounds and the lighter weight blue bag can hole up to 22 pounds.
The voluntary ban that has been in place for years, in favor of reusable bags, did not work as officials had hoped it would. Consumers will still have the option of paper or plastic grocery bags, but over the next few weeks the New York City Council will be reviewing the proposed 10-cent fee.
By: Cynthia Collins
New York Newsday