A truck dumps its contents of recyclable items on the...

A truck dumps its contents of recyclable items on the tipping floor at the Town of Brookhaven Material Recycling Facility in Yaphank on Aug. 30, 2023. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

ALBANY — The State Legislature has agreed to a deal that would require large companies in New York to significantly decrease millions of tons of packaging waste each year, including plastic packs of food, cans, detergent bottles and single-use cups and cardboard.

The bill agreed to by both chambers on Thursday night passed 37-23 along party lines in the State Senate after a heated debate. Senate Republicans opposing the measure said it would cost families $600 to $800 more per year in purchases, eliminate some popular products such as Lunchables from supermarket shelves, and cost jobs at New York manufacturing plants.

The Democratic-based bill moved toward a floor debate in the Assembly Friday night in the chamber controlled by Democrats, although passage was uncertain.

In another major issue on Friday, the Democratic majorities of the Assembly and Senate refused to accept Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposals to increase payroll taxes on New York City businesses to raise $1 billion to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The legislature also refused to pass Hochul’s resolution to commit $1 billion now to the MTA for next year.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The State Legislature has agreed to a deal that would require large companies in New York to significantly decrease millions of tons of packaging waste each year.
  • The bill agreed to by both chambers on Thursday night passed 37-23 in the State Senate. It goes next to the Assembly.
  • Also, the Democratic majorities of the Assembly and Senate refused to accept Gov. Hochul’s proposals to increase payroll taxes on NYC businesses to raise $1 billion to fund the MTA.

The short-term measures were needed because Hochul unexpectedly this week derailed indefinitely the multiyear plan approved by the legislature calling for congestion pricing. The plan would charge vehicles for entering the busiest part of Manhattan to reduce traffic and air pollution. The fees were to help fund the MTA.

Legislators could return later in the year to act or Hochul could use reserve funds to fill the gap. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said talks would continue and a decision would have to be made on how to fill the $1 billion hole by Dec. 31.

Hochul said Friday night for the first time that this is a “pause” in congestion pricing, not the indefinite suspension that she had called it before. She said she will negotiate with legislative leaders for a funding stream for the MTA, but also for measures to reduce congestion and air pollution.

“This is a pause,” she said. “This is only a temporary pause.”

While the governor acknowledged that she talked with Democrats in Washington or Albany, she said her congestion pricing decision wasn't political. She said she had been swayed by the opinions of struggling New Yorkers she met at diners and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the packaging bill dominated public debate Friday.

The measure will require companies with more than $5 million in revenue and which produce more than 2 tons of waste per year to pay fees to local governments to take over as much as $250 million a year of the cost of recycling now paid by taxpayers. It also would save landfill space and reduce waste burned in incinerators, according to the bill’s sponsors.

“It’s not going to make everyone happy, but that’s compromise. It’s still going to be the strongest bill in the country,” said Senate Environmental Conservation Committee chairman Pete Harckham (D-South Salem), the bill’s sponsor, emerging from negotiations Thursday night.

If approved by both houses, the bill, called the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act, would go to Hochul for her signature into law or veto.

The measure is aimed at reducing the 15 million tons of waste generated each year in New York. Supporters said the bill also would reduce refuse dumped in waterways, including what the environmental group Citizens Campaign for the Environment estimates is 165 million plastic particles floating in Long Island Sound.

“This is an important step in curtailing needless toxic exposures in packaging, the overuse of plastics, as well as tackling the growing solid waste disposal crisis,” said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which also lobbied for the bill.

Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee chairwoman Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) has said the bill she co-sponsored also will combat the microplastics now being detected in people and are considered a health concern.

In an often contentious debate in the Senate, Republicans cited opposition by companies that would have to pay to recycle their packaging. Republicans said some favorite products such as Lunchables would no longer be available in New York and companies that make and package such products would leave the state, along with their jobs.

“I know sometimes the free-market economy escapes some of you folks,” State Sen. George Borrello (R-Jamestown) told Harckham. “No matter how you slice it, this is going to mean less choice for consumers and it’s going to mean higher costs … It’s time to stop letting radicals rule policies here in Albany.”

Harckham said the bill is part of a national and international effort to require producers to pay to recycle their packaging and companies will innovate to produce better packaging at no cost or no significant cost to consumers because of market pressures.

“The notion that a multinational corporation that is already doing this in Europe is going to walk away from the New York market and the California market, I think, is pure bluster,” Harckham said. “Manufacturers will be adjusting because there is a national movement to do this.”

The measure requires major brand companies and manufacturers to pay fees for the recycling costs of their packaging. The fees will be paid to a packaging reduction organization, which will be a nonprofit organization created by the state. The nonprofit organization will oversee the program and develop reduction and recycling plans, rather than the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

That was a concession sought by the industry, Harckham said.

The measure also calls for the companies to reduce packaging and make it more recyclable, as well as reduce toxicity in some packaging. The large companies would be assessed the costs of improved recycling based on their output of packaging. Currently, most recycling is paid for by municipalities and their taxpayers.

“This legislation shifts the onus of recycling from municipalities and ensures that producers of products are serving our interests by establishing solutions to sustainable packaging,” the bill states.

Similar measures are in place in California, Colorado, Oregon and Maine.

Companies not in compliance could face fines of $1,000 per day.

Several businesses are exempt from the bill, including those that produce medical devices, vaccines, hazardous materials, bottles with deposits, medical foods and baby formula. Dairy farming cooperatives are also exempt.

The measure had faced strong opposition by business groups. Negotiations rolled back the goal of requiring companies to reduce plastic packaging use from the original level of 50% over 12 years, to 30%.

Opponents of the bill including The Kraft Heinz Co. with three locations in New York State said the measure will hurt upstate manufacturing, raise consumer prices on food and other items and cost jobs.

“Consumers will feel this bill in their wallets first because it will drive up the cost of everything from groceries to gifts to household goods,” stated business groups including the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, The Toy Association and chambers of commerce from the Buffalo and Albany areas.

With Yancey Roy and Keshia Clukey

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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