A small bill can make a huge difference
Published in the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Wednesday, November 19, 2014
BY Donovan Richards , Margaret Chin , Brad Lander
But when it comes to the plastic bag waste that’s choking our oceans, clogging our storm drains, getting stuck in our trees and wasting our money, our city isn’t leading. In fact, we’re far behind.
There are already 142 municipalities around the country that have instituted fees or bans on disposable bags — and it’s not just places like San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
Municipalities and counties in Texas, North Carolina and Arizona (not to mention China, Ireland and Rwanda) are also ahead of us.
Many of these places have already seen a 60% to 95% decrease in plastic bag use. Residents quickly, easily and overwhelmingly shifted to environmentally friendly reusable bags.
The benefits of this shift are easy to recognize. Plastic bags aren’t hanging from trees or clogging gutters, and sanitation departments are saving money by not having to clean up and dispose of those wasteful bags.
New Yorkers, by contrast, continue to use 5.2 billion disposable bags — 625 per person — each year. We spend $10 million of taxpayers’ money to truck them as waste to landfills, but many still end up as litter. Others blow into the ocean, where they join ever-growing islands of plastic waste that are filling our oceans.
Are we finally ready to do something about it?
We’re the sponsors of city legislation to place a 10-cent fee on disposable plastic and paper bags in convenience stores, supermarkets and delis citywide. That small fee will help remind New Yorkers to start bringing their own bags to the store — and with that shift will come the same benefits so many other cities are already enjoying.
(Paper is included in our legislation because our aim is to encourage reusable bag use, not to trade one environmentally harmful habit for another.)
You might have heard some misinformation about our bill. Here are some facts.
The experience of other cities shows that people across all income levels respond to a fee by dramatically reducing their plastic bag use. We all may still pay for a bag once in a while — but New Yorkers will start bringing reusable bags and mostly avoid the fee.
Our bill requires the city to distribute reusable bags throughout low-income communities to make sure everyone there has the opportunity to make the shift and avoid paying a fee. And it would exempt people who pay with food stamps. So it will not impose a financial burden.
Our bill won’t hurt small businesses, who will keep the 10-cent fee — it’s not a tax — and who won’t have to deal with any new paperwork requirements. It’s also been shown that consumers don’t shop less when fees are enacted.
And contrary to some claims, reusable bags are safe and sanitary. Consumer Reports has debunked the one study (which was funded by the plastic bag industry) that purported to show otherwise.
Our bill also won’t place any fee on the small plastic bags supermarkets provide specifically for meat and produce, so there’s no risk for cross-contamination. It never hurts to wash reusable bags to keep them clean — but there’s no evidence of a public health risk.
Here’s one more important fact. When the California Legislature recently passed a statewide ban on disposable plastic bags, it wasn’t just progressive lawmakers and environmentalists who pushed it through. The bill was backed by advocates for businesses, workers and low-income residents throughout the state.
So why are we still wallowing in plastic-bag waste?
Chin, Lander and Richards are City Council members, respectively representing lower Manhattan, Park Slope and Gowanus in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in Queens. Richards is chairman of the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and Lander is deputy leader for policy.