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For environment, Nassau should charge for paper bags, too

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/darrya

Banning single-use plastic bags in New York was a solid step toward reducing waste. But it really was a half-step.

The measure adopted in the state budget was not paired with a mandatory nickel fee on paper shopping bags, the gold standard around the country for getting consumers to abandon disposable bags and switch to reusable ones.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers instead agreed to let counties and cities opt in to charging 5 cents for paper bags, which seemed likely to lead to some saying yes and others saying no. And of course, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Commendably, Suffolk County, which already had a paper bag fee, is keeping it. New York City just approved a nickel fee. But Nassau, smack between the two, not only had no bag ban or fee for paper, now legislative Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello short-sightedly has pronounced such a fee as “dead on arrival.”

Nicolello argues that the fee is a tax and that more taxes are not tolerable. It’s a good election-year pitch, but this isn’t about levying a tax. It’s about changing behavior; a customer can avoid the fee simply by taking a reusable bag to the store. When Nicolello says government should not force stores to charge a fee for paper, he’s really saying that government should not lead on an important environmental issue. That’s abominable. Suffolk’s 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags, which began in 2018, led to an 80 percent drop in bag use — a reduction of 1.1 billion plastic bags alone in one year. There was no revolt. Customers are now used to it. These measures work.

Sometimes, doing the right thing takes courage. Nicolello and the Nassau legislature should try it. — The editorial board