Statement of NYC Council Member Brad Lander on NYS DEC Commissioner’s Newfound Support for a NYC Plastic Bag Ban

Statement of NYC Council Member Brad Lander on NYS DEC Commissioner’s Newfound Support for a NYC Plastic Bag Ban

“After failing to weigh in to support NYC’s efforts to reduce plastic bag waste at any point over the past three years, it takes a lot of chutzpah – and very little concern for good public policy – for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner to start telling New York City what we should do. 

Just last week, Governor Cuomo promised to form ‘a statewide task force to develop a uniform state plan for addressing the plastic bag problem’ by the end of this year. Did the task force meet? Did I miss it somehow?

If the DEC Commissioner believes a plastic-bag ban is good policy, why wouldn’t he propose it for New York State as a whole? Is he recommending to Suffolk County and the City of Long Beach that they should scrap their plans for a carryout bag fee, and adopt a ban instead?

A ban without a fee is a politically-expedient idea. Unfortunately, there is a significant body of evidence that it just won’t work. Has the Commissioner read any of it? I recommend he start here: Why Carryout Bag Fees Are More Effective Than Plastic Bag Bans.

Chicago recently scrapped its plastic bag ban (after just a year) in favor of a 7-cent fee. Hawaii is considering doing the same. Why? Because consumers don’t change their behavior, so there is no overall reduction in solid waste. Many retailers simply started giving out thicker plastic bags (just above the banned threshold) for free, making a mockery of the law. Has the DEC Commissioner consulted with Chicago and Hawaii, and figured out how to solve this issue?

With a simple carryout-bag fee in place (with, or without a ban on thin plastic), the vast majority of consumers – across lines of race, religion, income, age, and family size – start bringing reusable bags most of the time. This has proven true in hundreds of cities, states, and countries. It is not a “regressive tax,” because low-income families are just as capable as wealthy ones of bringing reusable bags. We all are.

The City Council made clear to the Governor and the State Legislature that we would be thrilled to work with them on a comprehensive policy. If they would provide NYC with the authority (which they currently deny us), we would collect some of the fee to clean our streets and protect the environment. And we would be happy to see a statewide policy – like the one just adopted in California, where they are setting the standard for a progressive state – that would ban thin-plastic bags and place a fee on paper/carryout bags. 

But to nullify our common-sense law without so much as a public hearing, to pretend that a ‘task force’ would be appointed only to undermine it after a few days, and to ignore evidence from around the country about what works? That is not a good-faith effort to develop smart, statewide environmental policy. It is a cynical political ploy.”

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