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City Council committee to hold hearing on disposable bag surcharge bill

A plastic bag littering a street in Brooklyn

A plastic bag littering a street in Brooklyn after a press conference in support of a plastic bag surcharge on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. Photo Credit: Agaton Strom

The public will have its chance Wednesday to weigh in on city legislation that could make New Yorkers think twice about using plastic or paper bags.

The City Council's Sanitation Committee will hold its first hearing on a bill introduced by council members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin that would charge consumers a dime for each disposable bag they use at retail or food stores. Although some groups and electeds say the bill puts unnecessary financial burdens on working class residents, environmentalists warn of other dangers.

"Every New Yorker pays for it anytime we see [a bag] on the street, the beach, anywhere," said Ya-Ting Liu, a sustainability program director for the New York League of Conservation Voters.

Under the legislation, the money from the surcharge would go straight to the store owner and customers who use their own bags won't be charged. Bags that hold produce, meats and other non-prepackaged foods will be exempt. The law applies to grocery, supermarkets and retail stores.

As of Tuesday, 19 other council members have signed onto Lander's bill, six shy of passage. Nine council members, including David Greenfield, Eric Ulrich, and James Vacca, are opposed to it and are expected to participate in a rally at City Hall with other opponents at the same time as the 1 p.m. hearing.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito has not taken a position, but a spokeswoman for her office said the speaker looks forward to reviewing the proposal.

A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "The administration is supportive of efforts to reduce single use carryout bags that could help decrease the city's costs to dispose of carryout bags, and minimize street litter and water pollution. We look forward to working with council member Lander and the entire city council to help minimize the negative environmental impacts associated with plastic carryout bags."

A coalition of groups, including Black Leadership Action Coalition (BLAC), the Bodega Association, The Safety Net Project of the Urban Justice Center and the American Progressive Bag Alliance, however, called the bill a regressive tax.

Bertha Lewis, the head of the BLAC, said the council should focus on other ways to make the city green.

"The recycling program now is a joke. We're not invested in it and it's especially lacking in low income neighborhoods," she said.

Lander said he is confident that the bill will get support once people understand the effects the bags have on the environment. New Yorkers use 5.2 billion disposable bags annually and the sanitation department spends $10 million a year to transport the non-bio degradable bags, according to his office. In addition, Lander said similar measures in other areas such as Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Ireland led to dramatic decreases in disposable bag use and saved millions for those areas.

"It really is an easy problem to solve. In city after city, people have shown you can bring a reusable bag, reduce waste and not pay the surcharge," he said.

Liu agreed.

"It requires the cashier and customer to stop and consider if they really need that bag," she said of the proposal. "That pause is enough to require a dramatic difference."


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