Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Sunday proposed a statewide ban on thin plastic bags at store checkouts but would leave paper bags unregulated by the state, sparking concern from environmentalists and grocery stores that shoppers will simply switch their disposable bag habits.
Aimed at encouraging shoppers to bring reusable bags, Cuomo's plastic bag ban would replace 5-cent fees in Suffolk County, Long Beach and other areas where local governments have passed fees in recent years to reduce bag waste.
Paper bags wouldn't be affected under Cuomo's proposal, although local governments could impose their own.
Cuomo also proposed Sunday that sports drinks, energy drinks and fruit and vegetable juices be included under the 5-cent deposit program. He said he also will direct the state Department of Environmental Conservation to study whether to add wine and liquor bottles to the deposit program.
Cuomo, in a news release, said the proposals "will reduce litter in our communities, protect our water and create a cleaner and greener New York for all."
Environmental advocates and the grocery store lobbyists expressed concern that shoppers would start using free paper bags, which cost more to transport and store, or thicker plastic bags that are exempt from the ban.
Chicago instituted a plastic bag ban in 2015, but dropped it 16 months later in favor of a 7-cent fee after stores and shoppers simply used paper bags.
"This needs to be coupled with a fee on paper bags, so as not to trigger a shift from plastic to paper, which has its own environmental concerns," said Eric A. Goldstein, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Manhattan. He said the plastic ban "heads in the right direction. It can help reverse the ever-growing tide of plastic trash."
Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, also said there should eventually be a fee on paper bags.
“The goal here is to change public behavior, so they’re not using paper or plastic. This is a good step. This is the beginning of the death of plastic bag pollution," she said.
Business groups and grocery stores said they opposed Cuomo's plastic bag ban.
"The Business Council is concerned that these proposals will come at considerable cost to consumers and businesses and will do little, if anything, to address the municipal solid waste issues of the State," Darren Suarez, director of government affairs for The Business Council of New York State, said in an email on Sunday. He said "contrary to the rhetoric," the ban could increase emissions because it costs more to transport paper bags than plastic ones.
Michael Durant, president and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, said the group "will strongly oppose" Cuomo's bag proposal. "All evidence points to the simple fact that a plastic bag ban will not effectively impact the environment positively when paper bags are not addressed, as well," he said.
Cuomo said the proposal will be included in his executive budget.
Local governments on Long Island have implemented local fees to try to combat waste from plastic bags, which environmentalists say litter highways and waterways, are made with fossil fuels and jam recycling systems. While the Suffolk Legislature has imposed a 5-cent fee on paper and plastic since 2018 — in which the money is kept by the stores — a similar proposal in Nassau County has been stalled by the Republican-controlled Legislature, which worried about its cost to consumers.
State plastic bag bans have been bandied about before in Albany, but they were stalled in the State Senate where Republicans had control. Democrats took charge this year.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), the new head of his chamber's Environmental Conservation Committee, has introduced a bill that would ban plastic carryout bags and put a 10-cent fee on paper bags and reusable bags sold at checkouts, with the money directed to a state environmental fund.
“To Governor Cuomo’s credit, this budget should be a vehicle to advance innovative and bold ideas to protect our environment," Kaminsky said in a statement. "I am proud to carry plastic bag legislation in the Senate that also addresses paper bags, something I will continue to advocate for during this process."
Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), who had sponsored Suffolk County's bag fee, said he supported Cuomo's proposal. "The plan is that they’re going to ban the plastic. So I’m excited," he said. "I think we had a good result here in Suffolk with a fee."
Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore), the ranking Republican on the State Senate environment committee, said he supported Cuomo's proposal. "These plastic bags have been an environmental nightmare for far too long. It's the best way to clean up oceans and landscapes."