New Yorkers will have to think twice before choosing paper or plastic at the checkout line if a City Council bill introduced Wednesdaygets passed.
Council members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin re-introduced legislation that would charge customers a dime for every non-reusable carryout bag they get at grocery and retail stores to reduce the amount of litter on the city streets.
Lander and Chin tried to get the law passed last year, but it never made it to the floor, but the pols said they aren't giving up.
"This is a problem we all see with our own eyes. New Yorkers know we don't need 5.2 billion unrecyclable bags each year," Lander said at a news conference outside City Hall.
Under the legislation, customers at supermarkets, retail shops and grocery stores will be charged 10 cents per paper and plastic bag and that money will go straight to the store's owner. New Yorkers would be encouraged to bring their own shopping bags to avoid the fees. It costs the city about $10 million a year to transport 100,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills, and the bill's sponsors say the bags, which have been use in the city since the '70s, aren't entirely biodegradable. In the middle of the news conference, a reporter pointed out to Lander that a plastic bag was floating by in the wind, confirming the argument that the bags create litter.
Other cities, like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C, have similar laws that either tax the bags, ban them or enforce a similar surcharge. Councilwoman Chin plastic bag use fell by 90% in those cities. "There's no reason why we should be left behind," she said.
The bill, which has the support of 19 council members and the public advocate so far, wouldn't affect restaurants or food carts; and those who use food stamps will be exempt from the surcharge. Plastic bags used for produce, meat and fruit inside stores won't be charged.
The bill introduced last year was never brought up for a vote, even by the Council's sanitation committee and only had 15 co-sponsors. It would need 26 votes in the 51-member council to pass.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he needs to look at the bill but acknowledged that the bags are a serious environmental problem. "Certainly, I look forward to seeing this legislation, but I can tell you as societal goal, it's something we have to work on," he told reporters Tuesday.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito didn't take a position Wednesday and said she would review the bill. Some New Yorkers said they were glad that the council was taking a step to curb litter.
"I think it's awesome," said Melissa Ayber of Queens. "There's a lot of trash from plastic bags. It ends up in the train tracks and all over the city. It's a mess."
Not everyone was too thrilled with the bill, which currently doesn't have enough support for a majority vote. The American Progressive Bag Alliance, a group of plastic bag manufacturers, criticized the council members who supported the bill, calling it a burden on hardworking New Yorkers.
"This proposed ordinance will drive up the cost of already expensive groceries for New Yorkers while failing to achieve any environmental goals," the group said in a statement. Latesha Sylman, of the Bronx, said she understands that the bags make a mess but didn't think that consumers should bear the financial burden.
"Everything is so expensive in the city right now, it seems like a little too much," she said.
City Councilman Rory Lancman of Queens agreed. Lancman said he is opposed to the bill because 10 cents per bag adds up for working families.
"All of us, from the mayor down, were elected to make life for New Yorkers more affordable," he said.
The councilman said he favored an outright ban of the plastic bags and using the $10 million saved to provide people with free reusable cotton bags.