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New York searching for answers in combating plastic bag waste

Nick Lippa

It’s not just consumers. Recycling plastic bags for many retailers has proven difficult. To help with this problem, the New York Plastic Bag Task Force has identified eight possible solutions and sent the report to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for consideration.

  • Strengthen and Enforce Existing New York State Plastic Bag reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act- Continue implementation of the existing New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act while increasing education, enforcement and reporting requirements.
  • Manufacturer Responsibility for Recycling of Single-Use Plastic Bags- Require manufacturers to fund and implement a program for the collection and recycling of single-use plastic bags.
  • Fee on Single-Use Plastic Bags- Institute a fee on single-use plastic bags.
  • Fee per Transaction for Single-Use Bags- Under this option, rather than a fee per bag, a single fee would be imposed for the use of single-use bags (i.e., a fee would be assessed whether a consumer received one bag or ten bags).
  • Fee on Single-Use Plastic and Paper Bags
  • Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags- Implement a ban on the sale and use of single-use plastic bags.
  • Hybrid- Implement a ban on plastic bags with a fee on the allowable alternatives.
  • Continue Existing Policies- Continue implementation of the existing New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said it would take several years to determine the impact if one of these solutions were to become law.
“The group was fairly adamant that that fee would have to go in to a fund that would then be in turn used for waste reduction paying back out to the counties and towns for environmental purposes,” said Seggos. “There would be a feedback loop on any research done based on those funds spent.”

Seggos said they need to continue working on education and outreach. The current focus is to emphasize utilizing reusable bags. While stores like Wegmans have made reusable bags available for cheap near the front of their store, they haven’t significantly cut in to the number of plastic bags that get used once and then are thrown away.

“I think we’ve had a robust discussion this year with retailers,” said Seggos. “Getting them to the table. Hearing from them about their concerns. In some respect, many of these bags that come back from recycling are unrecyclable because they are dirty. There needs to be more done.”

23 billion plastic bags are used across New York State annually. Seggos believes there needs to be an aggressive review of this by the legislature.

“Some communities have done phasing periods,” said Seggos. “For example, where you try out the solution over the course of a year or two and see what the results have been in terms of the waste elimination and consumer receptivity. There may be a hybrid approach where you don’t have a permanent solution in mind. Perhaps a temporary solution and you gauge its effectiveness.”

Laws similar to the report have been noted to change behavior and reduce waste in other areas like California and Hawaii.

“In the case of Washington (D.C.) for example,” said Seggos, “they imposed a small fee on each bag. There was concern that would (make) consumers upset. Ultimately it helps change behavior in people now finding they are able to reuse more of their bags. Paper, plastic, or some of the sturdy reusable (bags) like you see at Wegmans.”

Once they enter the environment, plastic bags can last hundreds to thousands of years. Seggos said it has become a problem for the landscape of New York.

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