On average, a person will only use a plastic bag for 12 minutes, but it will take 500 years for that same plastic bag to degrade, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Once considered an essential part of our society, many are starting to rethink the necessity of plastic bags and look for alternatives. California banned plastic bags in 2016. Also, all counties in the state of Hawaii have banned the use of them. Now, New York State has passed a law to ban plastic bags, an effort started last year by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo.
The ban will begin next March and will bar most stores from giving customers plastic bags. There would, however, be a number of notable exceptions. Restaurants will still be able to use takeout bags for leftover food, and butchers will still be able to wrap deli meat in the bags.
The plan will also let counties decide if they want to place a five-cent fee on paper bags. The money raised from the paper bags will go into the Environmental Protection Fund for New York State.
Some think that numerous exceptions hinder the plan’s ability to address the chief concern of eradicating plastic bags, which have done harm to hundreds of animal species.
According to the New York Times, the Environmental Advocates of New York’s executive director, Peter Iwanowicz, called the effort “a weak response to the scourge of disposable bags.”
While exceptions like restaurant take-out bags account for how much businesses will need to adjust once plastic bags are gone, many groups still think the bill will strike too big of a blow to businesses.
The president of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, Mike Durant, thinks the increased cost to businesses is unacceptable. He is baffled, in particular, that the state did not consider giving businesses part of the revenue from the opt-in five-cent fee on paper bags.
The National Federation of Independent Business’s New York director, Greg Biryla, is also concerned that small stores cannot take the blow. According to the New York Times, Biryla said that “every mandated cost increase adds up. Independent businesses are simply not able to absorb and adjust to new mandated costs the same as their big-box competitors.”
While there are people against the bill on both sides of the aisle, the New York Legislature is hoping they’ve learned a lot from smaller-scale initiatives to reduce single-use carryout bags in the state.
In particular, New York State should be comforted by the success of a similar bill in Suffolk County, a suburban county in New York State mostly in the suburban areas on Long Island.
In January of 2018, the county placed a five-cent tax on the use of plastic and paper bags. One year later, according to Newsday, the county was shocked to find that the rate of single-use bags had gone down by 80 percent.
Many in the state are still unconvinced that a fee will solve the issue, though. In May 2018, even after seeing the early benefits of the law in Suffolk County, a similar bill could not gain traction in Nassau County. The county is also on Long Island, which borders New York City’s Queens and Suffolk County.
The county’s legislature is primarily Republican and saw the initiative as a burden to its residents. Surely they are not happy with the state-wide bill, which began with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal last year.
But Cuomo did not reach his goal without a fight. Last year, Republicans successfully stalled an effort to ban plastic bags, with the help of a single Democrat, Brooklyn’s Simcha Felder.
But last November, in the Senate elections, the Democrats gained eight seats. This meant that the Republicans were far outnumbered and could not outvote the Democrats with just the help of Simcha Felder. Cuomo, according to the New York Times, said that “these bags have blighted our environment and clogged our waterways.”
Though politicians may debate how to address the issue, the negative impact of plastic bags on the environment is undeniable. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, an American family, on average, uses 1,500 plastic bags each year and only recycles 15.
These plastic bags kill 100,000 marine animals every single year and are known to affect at least 267 different animal species. New York State will have to wait and see if they have done enough to reduce their impact on the environment.