NYS Exposed: State weighing a 5-cent plastic bag fee for stores

March 20, 2017 11:22 PM

When you buy something at a store, if you can't carry the item yourself, you usually put it in either a paper bag, a re-usable cloth bags or go the easy route and fill up a plastic bag or two. But what if each flimsy little bag cost you an extra five cents?

Statewide, we use about 23 billion a year. If that upsets you, you typically bring your own reusable bags like Sue Gyore.

"Because if you look around at the sides of the roads," says Gyore, "you see all the plastic that's floating around that doesn't get cleaned up."

Some shoppers bring the plastic bags back to the store to be recycled into new bags, but you'll get differing opinions about actually paying a bag tax.

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"I know there is an environmental cost to the bags I use, I'd be willing to do that," Kathie Hetterich told us.

"We've got enough taxes here and it just adds to it and to me -- it's just kind of ridiculous," Jeannette Taylor said.

Still, it's hard to ignore the problems created by bags. "This is a litter problem and it’s an environmental problem -- it's a modern problem," says Steve Acquario, executive director of the state Association of Counties.

Acquario was just named to the governor's task force on plastic bags. They'll decide on how to fix problem.

"This is a very consumer-friendly bag right now," he says. "They have multi-functional uses beyond just a grocery store, but what's ending up happening here is they are blowing around littering the environment, clogging up the recycling mechanisms (because they cannot be recycled within cardboard, cans, bottles). They gunk up the machines there and they get stuck in the environment and take a long time to degrade."

Estimates vary on plastic decomposition, from 20 years to thousands of years, but the litter issue prompted California and Hawaii to enact bans.

Some 200 municipalities around the country have also enacted laws and fees for bags. Like Washington D.C. where they've seen a 50 percent reduction in single-use bags.

Earlier this month, Governor Cuomo imposed a moratorium on a five cent fee which New York City was trying to enact. Cuomo didn't like that the money would go: to the retailers, an estimated $100 million dollars a year, not to environmental causes.

Remember the bottle bill 30 years ago? At first the money went to retailers then the state changed things.

Acquario: "80 to 90 percent of the bottle bill now goes back to state Department of Environmental Conservation."

Rebecca Leclair: "People are going to feel this is a tax, particularly a tax on food and groceries that are basic commodities that people need."

Acquario: "I think we have to look at the fee. I think we have to look at if that is burdensome if it has a pro-consumer, pro-environment effect. We don't know, but I think everything's on the table in this regard. Whether there should be a fee, I'd rather not see a fee myself."

There is legislation in both the Senate and Assembly to tax plastic bags, but it's gone nowhere. Joe Errigo represents part of the Rochester region in the Assembly and was one of the first to say the state should not be regulating grocery bags. He even said, "Bag the task force." The first meeting of that state task force is Tuesday.


Rebecca Leclair

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