Get ready to take a reusable bag to the store if you are shopping in New York City.
Following the lead of other major cities, and putting a spotlight on the issue on Long Island and across New York State, the City Council is expected to approve a bill that would add a 5-cent fee per plastic or paper bag used for grocery and retail purchases.
It’s a smart idea that should change behavior. City residents use a staggering 9 billion disposable bags a year and don’t recycle most. The bags foul storm drains, waterways, trees and beaches. They harm birds and fish.
The fee might be enough to make a difference. Other cities have tried similar laws and seen an impact. A survey of residents in Washington, D.C., for instance, showed that plastic bag use dropped by 60 percent after a nickel fee was adopted. And fewer bags were found in the waterways there.
New York City retailers would keep every nickel because requiring them to turn over some money would be considered a tax, and that would need approval of the State Legislature. That’s not in the cards in Albany. It’s unfortunate; a dedicated fund for the city’s environmental needs would go a long way.
The city’s legislation tries to make the change easy on consumers. It exempts bags used for takeout food, or to wrap vegetables, meat or medications. People who use food stamps wouldn’t have to pay. City officials have plans for outreach and advertising before the law’s start date in October. And they would make reusable bags available, particularly for low-income residents.
Initally, retailers would be encouraged to offer reusable bags for free or at a discount. Branding opportunities should give them value in return. There are provisions in the legislation to study its impact.
If New York City’s law works, the benefits could be measured in far more than nickels. We’d be saving the environment, one bag at a time.— The editorial board