Everything you want to know about NY’s plastic bag ban

Single-Use Plastic Bags Will be Banned Starting March 1; Why It Might Be Tougher for Men

Posted on February 18, 2020 at 10:20 am by Carol Tannenhauser, West Side Rag

Plastic bags at Fairway.

By Lisa Kava

If you don’t own reusable shopping bags, now is the time to invest in some. You may also want to stockpile your favorite take-out plastic bags.

Starting March 1, stores in New York State will be banned from giving single-use plastic bags to customers at checkout as the New York State Bag Waste Reduction Law goes into effect.

Shoppers will need to either bring their own reusable bags or expect to pay 5 cents or more for each paper bag they receive at checkout. The ban includes grocery stores, food establishments, and other New York businesses.

The purpose of the law is to protect the environment and wildlife, and to cut down on waste. “New Yorkers use an estimated 23 billion plastic bags annually — each for about 12 minutes — and approximately 85% of this staggering total ends up in our landfills, recycling machines, waterways, and streets,” a spokesperson from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) wrote to WSR.

Certain bags are exempt from the law, including bags used by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs, produce bags for bulk items such as fruits and vegetables, and dry cleaner garment bags. For a complete list of exemptions, click here.

Stores will continue to sell packages of plastic bags, such as garbage bags, ziploc bags, baggies and bags for cleaning up after dogs, according to the DEC spokesperson.

The 5-cent fee on paper bags at checkout will go to the NYS Department of Tax and Finance, he explained. He added that NYC is one of three regions in the state adopting the “paper bag carry out reduction fee” (the 5-cent charge.) Individual stores may choose to charge more than 5 cents to make a profit. DEC strongly encourages all New Yorkers to #BYOBagNY — Bring Your Own Bag.

The new law won’t affect Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, as both were ahead of the game. Trader Joe’s stopped giving plastic bags to customers on checkout in 2019, Whole Foods stopped in 2008.

Women.

How are other establishments on the Upper West Side preparing? WSR spoke to merchants and shoppers.

“We have been working with our bag supplier on developing reusable shopping bags that will be reasonably priced,” said Scott Goldshine, General Manager of Zabar’s & Co., Inc. “Hopefully that will encourage customers to carry the bags with them to use frequently, which will cut down the use of all other bags as well. It will be very interesting to see how the law will be enforced and I’m sure it will take a while to get used to.”

At Fairway’s 74th and Broadway location, a manager told us the store has always sold reusable bags. He expects those sales will increase and believes most New Yorkers will know to bring their own bags starting March 1. Employees at the Broadway store are “waiting for further instructions from Fairway’s corporate office,” the manager said.

Kenny Wolk, owner of Park West Pharmacy on Columbus Avenue at 82nd Street, applauds the law’s objective but recognizes people will need to adjust. “Today it was raining,” he said in an interview. “A customer came in and bought a handful of things. I gave him a large plastic bag. He was so grateful saying that the rain would have ruined a paper bag.”

“This new law might be more of an adjustment for men,” Wolk added. “Women often come into the store carrying reusable bags. Last week a woman pulled a beautiful reusable bag out of her purse. But many men do not carry a purse so might not be in the habit of carrying reusable bags.”

We asked shopper and neighborhood resident Steve Martin if he agrees. “Normally, I know if I am going shopping, so taking a bag with me would not be a big deal. But I agree that generally it could be a little more inconvenient for men.”

Men may have a tougher adjustment.

How do other Upper West Siders feel about the upcoming change?

Some are enthusiastic and have already made lifestyle changes. “I love the efforts being made by retailers and consumers to use sustainable and recyclable products. This is a big win for environmental protection,” said Christine Simmons. “I carry a bag to and from work daily and store reusable bags for my groceries so I’m never caught without or have to resort to using plastic bags.”

Others are cynical. “I like this new law but think that unfortunately we will find other ways to carry our groceries that will continue adding to our landfill. Some may use heavier plastic bags which will inevitably end up in landfill and will take even longer to break down,” said Tessie Nedelman.

And others who support the law wonder about potential disadvantages. “I am concerned about excessive single-use plastic, so more than happy to carry reusable bags for shopping. I will probably keep a few of those thin nylon bags in my purse,” said Katherine Weber. “However, I have always been an obsessive saver of plastic shopping bags and reuse them for dog poop bags and cat litter waste. So in my case (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) it does feel a bit ironic that now I might have to purchase new plastic baggies for this purpose.”

Like it or not, a big change for all is just around the corner. Hopefully, in time, we will improve the environment as a result. And, eventually, “Bring Your Own Bag” may be just another part of our daily existence.

For more details on the Bag Waste Reduction Law, check out the state’s website here.

The New York City Department of Sanitation is giving out free reusable bags. For information click here.

These FAQs relate only to requirements under the state ECL and proposed Part 351 draft regulations, and are not to any applicable Tax, State Finance or Agriculture and Markets laws.

What is the Plastic Bag Waste Reduction Law?

Article 27 of the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) has been amended to create a new Title 28 for the New York State Bag Waste Reduction Act. The law takes effect March 1, 2020 and prohibits the distribution of plastic carryout bags by retailers in New York state.

Which retailers are no longer allowed to provide plastic bags?

Any person required to collect tax will no longer be able to provide plastic carryout bags, as defined in Title 28 of the ECL, to their customers.

What does the term “plastic carryout bag” mean? Does this include all plastic bags?

As provided in proposed Part 351 draft regulations:

‘Plastic carryout bag’ means any film plastic bag, other than an exempt bag, that is provided to a customer by a person required to collect tax to be used by the customer to carry tangible personal property, regardless of whether such person required to collect tax sells any tangible personal property or service to the customer, and regardless of whether any tangible personal property or service sold is exempt from tax under Article 28 of the New York State Tax Law.

‘Exempt bag’ means a bag that is:

  • Used solely to contain or wrap uncooked meat, fish, seafood, poultry, or other unwrapped food, flower, or plant item;
  • Used by a customer solely to package items from bulk containers, including fruits, vegetables, grains, candy, small hardware items (such as nuts, bolts, and screws), live fish, or live insects;
  • Used solely to contain food sliced or prepared to order;
  • Used solely to contain a newspaper for delivery to a subscriber;
  • Sold in bulk quantities to a consumer at the point of sale that were specifically prepackaged in a manner to allow for bulk sale (for example, quantities of bags prepackaged in individual pre-sealed boxes) or prepackaged in individual boxes or containers for sale to a customer;
  • Sold as a trash bag;
  • Sold as a food storage bag, such as those in snack, sandwich, quart, and gallon sizes;
  • Used as a garment bag, such as those used by a dry cleaner or laundry service;
  • Provided by a restaurant, tavern, or similar food service establishment, as defined in the state sanitary code, to carry out or deliver food;
  • Provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs;
  • A reusable bag, as that term is defined in proposed Part 351 draft regulations; or
  • A film plastic bag for which there is no reasonable or practical alternative for storing, containing or transporting items, as determined by the department.

What is considered a reusable bag? What does the term “durable” mean within the definition of a reusable bag?

As provided in proposed Part 351 draft regulations:

‘Reusable bag’ means a bag that:

  • Is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuses;
  • Has a minimum lifespan of 125 uses, with a use equal to the ability to carry a minimum of 22 pounds over a distance of at least 175 feet;
  • Holds at least 22 pounds for the duration of the lifespan of the bag;
  • Has at least one strap or handle that is separately attached, does not stretch and is fastened to the bag in such a manner that it allows the bag to meet the strength and durability standards in paragraphs 351-1.2(n)(2) and (3) of proposed Part 351 draft regulations, unless otherwise approved by the department; and
  • Is hand washable or machine washable;
    • Has a minimum thickness of 10 mils for bags made of petroleum-based or non-petroleum-based low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or other plastic material of petroleum or non-petroleum origin;
    • Has a minimum fabric weight of 80 grams per square meter (GSM) for bags made of any non-film plastic of natural, synthetic, petroleum based, or non-petroleum-based origin, including woven or nonwoven polypropylene (PP), polyethylene-terephthalate (PET), cotton, jute, or canvas; is made of a combination of the materials specified in subparagraphs 351-1.2(n)(5)(i) and (ii) of proposed Part 351 draft regulations; or
    • has a design of equivalent material strength and durability, as approved by the department.

How does this law affect the current NYS Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Law? Can consumers bring in exempt bags, leftover bags, and other film plastic to be recycled?

This law expressly keeps the requirements for retail stores required under Title 27 of Article 27 of the ECL to continue to collect film plastic from consumers for recycling.

Is it sanitary to reuse bags?

Yes, one of the benefits of reusable bags is that they can be cleaned regularly.

If consumers buy prepared food at a grocery/retail/convenience store, or pick up a prescription from a pharmacy inside a retail store, can they receive a plastic bag?

Yes, but only for those specific items. Plastic bags used solely to contain food sliced or prepared to order or are provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription bags are considered exempt uses, regardless of location. In locations where a local law has been passed implementing the 5-cent paper carryout bag reduction fee, such fee would not be charged on a paper carryout bag provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs, since the fee only applies to paper bags that serve as an alternative to banned film plastic bags.

Can supermarkets package groceries for home delivery in plastic bags or are those bags also banned?

The law does not have a specific exemption for plastic bags used for the home delivery of groceries. If the plastic bag is provided by a supermarket, and the plastic bag is to be used by the customer to carry groceries, then the supermarket will no longer be able to package groceries in plastic bags for home delivery. However, the exemptions for bags used to contain food sliced or prepared to order, bags used to contain unwrapped meat, fish or poultry, and bags used to package bulk items, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and candy apply. So plastic bags could be used to contain these items, thereby keeping items separated and free from contamination from other items and providing some protection against spills from raw meat containers. These exempt plastic bags could then be placed in reusable bags or paper carryout bags for delivery to the consumer.

Paper Carryout Bag Reduction Fee

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance provides information regarding the paper carryout bag reduction fee (link leaves DEC’s website).

Bag Waste Reduction Law Outreach Materials

Bag waste reduction starts with reusable bag education and #BYOBagNY reminders. New York State’s plastic bag ban begins March 1, 2020. These resources can be used to help remind the public to #BYOBagNY and inform consumers about the plastic bag ban. Materials include:

Visit this page for the most up-to-date digital outreach resources. If you need any of these materials in another language, please contact DEC at plasticbags@dec.ny.gov

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