NYC leaders are moving forward to roll out the five-cent bag fee approved by City Council in May 2016. As environmentalists applaud, store owners are rushing to follow instructions from the city’s Department of Sanitation (DSNY) via notices distributed last week. The directions were issued to remind shop owners to post required signage about the city’s new ‘Carryout Bag Fee’ law, which will go into effect next February, which adds a five-cent fee to every plastic, paper, and cloth bag provided by businesses. The funny thing about the controversial bag fee is that, although it passed in City Council last spring, the State Senate has disagreed with the measure and proposed legislation that would effectively make it illegal. NYC is now seemingly acting in defiance of state lawmakers, who have yet to finalize the proposed bill that would outlaw the bag fee.
Last May, the NYC City Council approved a measure that would assess a 5-cent fee on each carryout bag provided by retail stores and restaurants, originally planned to begin October 1, 2016. One of the large motivating factors behind the bag fee was to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the city, which includes some 9 billion single-use plastic bags. Just weeks later, the State Senate introduced a bill which effectively blocked the controversial citywide ban by prohibiting “any tax, fee or local charge” on single-use plastic bags. Determined to make a positive impact on the environment, the City Council considered amending the measure by turning the bag ‘fee’ into a bad ‘refund’ which would skirt the Senate’s bill, if just barely.
The effective date for the city’s carryout bag fee was pushed back to February 15, 2017, in an effort to appease state lawmakers. NYC shop owners are now receiving notices to remind them to post signage prior to that date, giving a strong impression that the city plans to move forward with the bag fee. Meanwhile, the state ban on plastic bag fees is still up in the air, awaiting a vote by the Assembly. Critics have argued that the bag fee will unfairly impact lower income residents of the city, but advocates for the measure point out that the larger fate of the environment hangs in the balance, and carrying a reusable bag to the store or take-out restaurant is something anyone can do. What’s more, purchases made using SNAP or WIC are exempt from the bag fee as well.