Will a Fee Make You Ditch Paper Bags? N.Y.C. Hopes So

By Azi Paybarah

You’ve probably heard that New York State is banning single-use plastic bags next year. Governor Cuomo held a public ceremony yesterday, on Earth Day, to sign that legislation into law.

What you may not have heard is that days earlier, New York’s City Council passed a bill approving a 5-cent fee on each paper carryout bag. Mayor de Blasio supports the fee, which is expected to take effect next March, on the same day the plastic bag ban begins.

If it seems like the city is trying to get you to abandon single-use bags, you’re right.

“We’ve developed a throwaway culture in which we use something once,” said Councilman Brad Lander, Democrat of Brooklyn and a sponsor of the paper bag fee. “There are some behaviors that we need to change that turn out not to be that hard to change.”

Here’s what you need to know:

Remind me, which plastic bags will be banned?

Essentially, the plastic bags you get at grocery stores and bodegas.

What about plastic bags for takeout food at restaurants?

Those will not be banned. Neither will plastic bags purchased in bulk, like garbage bags.

Why does the city want a fee on paper bags?

To discourage you from using them.

“Paper bags are a lot heavier than plastic bags,” Mr. Lander said. Transporting those heavier bags is more expensive and is less environmentally friendly than you might think, he added.

Mr. Landler estimated that the city spends $12 million to $13 million a year putting plastic bags in landfills, and if everyone switched to paper bags, “that number would go up, because paper bags are so much heavier. We might spend $20 million more.”

But aren’t paper bags an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic bags?

To make paper bags, a lot of trees are cut down, and a lot of water and chemicals are used. That process, in aggregate, isn’t great for the environment.

You want me to remember to bring reusable bags to the store?

Many people do it — “from Washington, D.C., to California to Seattle to Ireland to Israel,” said Mr. Lander, rattling off places where reusable bags are encouraged through a mix of bans and fees on single-use bags.

“We bring things with us every day,” Mr. Lander added. “We remember our wallets, and our keys, and our handbags or purses and cellphones.”

And part of the fee will help pay for a program to provide free reusable bags.

Which stores will be affected by the 5-cent fee?

Many stores, like supermarkets and clothing shops. “Supermarkets are where the massive volume of single-use bags comes from,” Mr. Lander said.

People who receive food stamps or other forms of government assistance will be exempt from the fee.

Which stores will not be affected by the 5-cent fee?

Restaurants. People want food delivered with as little spillage as possible.

Who opposes the 5-cent fee?

The president of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State said the legislation could result in higher costs for retailers, which would not receive any of the revenue.

Councilman Robert F. Holden, Democrat of Queens, was one of nine lawmakers who voted against the legislation, saying the fee would hit customers’ wallets.

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