Frequently Asked Questions About The Bill
Intro 209-A (The Bag Bill) FAQ:
- Why do we need a plastic bag law?
- Will a 5-cent charge really work?
- How would it work?
- Is this just another tax?
- What counts as a single-use plastic bag?
- What kinds of stores does the bill cover?
- How does this bill affect low-income households?
- How will enforcement work? Is this a paperwork nightmare?
- I don't have any reusable bags, when would it go into effect?
- Does this bill impact certain communities more than others?
- Won't this just encourage online shopping?
- I use plastic bags for my trash bags/pet waste/you name it. How would this affect me?
- Why does the bill also have stores charge for paper bags in addition to plastic bags?
- I've heard there is a debate over the environmental impact of reusable bags versus single-use plastic bags. What are the facts?
- What are the possible public health effects of switching from single-use to reusable bags?
- Can't plastic bags be recycled?
Every year, New Yorkers dispose of more than 9 billion single-use plastic bags -- and millions of them end up in our neighborhoods, trees, streets, and oceans. New York City spends $12.5million per year to send them to landfills, and even more to clean them off playgrounds, beaches, parks, and other public places.
In dozens of other cities, a small fee has been overwhelmingly successful in getting people to bring their own, reusable bags when they shop, and generated a 60% to 90% drop in plastic bag waste.
Unlike other cities, we are not proposing a plastic bag ban. Instead, customers who want to use a single-use bag would pay a small 5-cent fee, which encourages people to bring reusable bags when they shop, but makes sure bags are still available when you need them.
It is not a tax at all, retail outlets would keep the 5-cent fee. This isn’t about a new way for the City to collect revenue, it’s about reducing plastic bag waste that is polluting our environment and dirtying our streets.
Single-use plastic shopping bags are lightweight plastic bags not designed for multiple reuse. They're the bags you get when you do much of your shopping. Due to their aerodynamic qualities, plastic bags often become trapped in trees and blown out of trashcans and landfills. Plastic bags get stuck in storm drains, exacerbating flooding and sewage discharges into waterways and are the fourth most commonly found type of litter on U.S. beaches.
- All retail stores and grocery stores, including corner stores, are covered by the bill. But there are some important exceptions:
- Produce, bulk food, and other similar bags you use in stores will not be covered.
- The little paper medicine bags at pharmacies are exempt.
- Restaurants would not be covered, as it is difficult to use reusable bags for take-out and delivery food.
- Street vendors selling fruit/vegetables or general merchandise (like grocery stores and retail stores, respectively) would be covered.
- Street vendors selling prepared food such as falafel, hot dogs or bagels would not be covered (like restaurants).
- Emergency food providers, such as food pantries and soup kitchens, are exempt.
- State-regulated liquor stores would not be covered to avoid contradicting state law.
Low- income communities, which bear a disproportionate share of our waste transfer infrastructure would see an immediate benefit from the bill. There would be less litter in low-income communities and less truck traffic bringing the 91,000 tons of discarded plastic bags to waste transfer stations. That’s why New York City's premier enviornmental justice organizations support the bill.
Transactions using SNAP and WIC (a/k/a “Food Stamps”), as well as food pantries and other emergency food providers, are exempt from the requirement to charge for bags in order to avoid an economic barrier to food security for low-income families.
In addition, the purpose of this bill is not to make people pay the fee, but instead to incentivize people to change their habits. Anyone who brings their own bag may avoid the charge at checkout. The proposed bill requires the City to work with community organizations to initiate a large, citywide reusable bag giveaway that includes special educational outreach events and reusable bag giveaways targeted to low-income households and stores in low-income neighborhoods. Several Council Members are already in partnership with groups such as the Citizen's Committee to conduct outreach and giveaway events (giving out high-quality washable canvas bags).
The administrative requirements are minimal. There is no record-keeping requirement for businesses and enforcement would be part of already-occuring Department of Consumer Affairs inspections with a warning (not a fine) for first time offenses. Stores must simply show they are charging a minimum of 5 cents per bag.
The bill would go into effect six months after enactment, providing time for education, for outreach and for retailers to prepare for the law. To encourage New Yorkers to switch to reusable bags, the bill expressly requires the City to engage in a large-scale education and outreach campaign and work with nonprofit partners to widely distribute free reusable bags citywide.
When similar policies have been implemented elsewhere, both reductions in bag use and, tellingly, attitudes about the policy, were consistent across all neighborhoods and demographics. After the District of Columbia implemented an extremely similar policy, it commissioned a poll quality survey of 600 residents that showed the following: 80% of respondents reported that they either like or do not mind the charge. This was true in low-income areas as well as high-income areas. The policy's effectiveness was consistent across racial groups as well: the percent of people who reported they significantly reduced their bag use by race were African-American 74%, White 80%, Hispanic 86%, Asian 87%.
It's hasn't in other places that have implemented similar laws. Customers in other cities have switched to reusable bags at a high rate once bag charge laws are implemented. Currently, grocery stores spend $18-30 per year per customer on bags, money that may be passed back to the consumer through lower food prices.
Most plastic shopping bags unfortunately are sent to landfills or end up on the street as litter rather than being reused or recylced. Other forms of bags, such as bread, chip, and produce bags, can be reused by households that use bags for trash liners or to pick up dog waste or kitty litter. The extra expense is estimated to be less than $1.50/year per household to purchase replacement trash bags.
Paper bags will also be subject to a 5-cent charge. Paper bags still have an environmental cost of production, like plastic bags, and the charge helps account for that cost by acting as a disincentive. It is important that both plastic and paper bags incur a charge so that consumers do not substitute one type of bag for the other without reducing total bag use.
I've heard there is a debate over the environmental impact of reusable bags versus single-use plastic bags – what are the facts?
Reusable bags are designed to be used many times which makes them environmentally superior to single-use plastic bags (which are not designed for repeated reuse). A U.S. study of reusable plastic bags showed that thicker, plastic bags designed for reuse and made from recycled materials have a lower environmental impact than typical single-use plastic bags after just eight uses. Studies have also shown that reusable bags are preferable to single-use plastic bags based in large part on their life-cycle durability.
Every time a city passes a single-use bag reduction bill, the plastic bag industry and their supporters falsely claim that resuable bags are unsafe. Independent analysts like Consumer Reports found that the American Chemistry Council report (the most cited report) had too small a smaple size to be meaningful.
Nonetheless, when reusable bags come in contact with insufficiently packaged products such as meats and other perishable goods, bacteria can sometimes be found--just like if it came in contact with your hands or clothes. Thus, it is important to wash or disinfect reusable bags regularly to avoid spread of contamination over time. Also, it should be noted that plastic bag ordinances apply only to carryout bags; bags used within stores (e.g., for meat, poultry, fish, etc.) would still be available for free.