Plastic bag ban? Proposed law draws mixed reactions from NYC shoppers, bodegas

A customer uses a plastic bag to carry out his items on March 6, 2018, at Little India grocery on East 28th Street. Such bags would be banned under a proposed law that would also charge shoppers a fee for other carryout bags.
A customer uses a plastic bag to carry out his items on March 6, 2018, at Little India grocery on East 28th Street. Such bags would be banned under a proposed law that would also charge shoppers a fee for other carryout bags. Photo Credit: iStock

A state Senate bill to ban plastic bags and charge shoppers a 10 to 25 cent fee for other carryout bags drew mixed reactions from New Yorkers and small business owners Tuesday.

Introduced by Sen. Liz Krueger (D-28) on Feb. 20, S7760 is designed to “reduce plastic waste and pollution” in New York and direct 80 percent of revenue earned by charging for bags to the state Environmental Protection Fund.

“We need to ban plastic bags — the time for debate on this is over,” Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted on Sunday. “They’re bad for the environment, they’re bad for the economy, they’re bad for New York. The state is behind the curve here, it’s time to put our planet first.”

Bodega owners, however, were not in complete agreement with Hizzoner.

“If you ask for extra money for bags, I don’t think people will pay,” said Carson Anderson, 23, who owns a bodega in Murray Hill called 7 MarketPlace Inc. “They’ll get mad, and there will be trouble.”

Anderson advocated for educating New Yorkers about the bill and its environmental advantages before enacting such legislation, saying that the average clientele of his bodega would not be on board with it.

Agreeing with Anderson, another bodega owner in midtown Manhattan said that she gives out four to five plastic bags for free every day.

“Everybody wants free bags. They even want one for a can of soda,” Mina Patel, 62, owner of Healthy Eats on W. 35th St., said. “People are used to paying nothing [for carryout bags]. For a small store like mine, nobody is going to bring their own reusable bags.”

Such a model has been in place in California and other cities around the world, and “the sky has not fallen,” Krueger said, adding that opponents of the bill should not hold New Yorkers in such a low regard.

“I think the vast majority of us are capable of bringing a reusable bag, or carrying a couple items in our hand,” she said in an emailed statement.

Her bill is derived from recommendations provided by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Plastic Bag Task Force, which was formed shortly after he and the state legislature negated a New York City law that would have charged a nickel for all plastic and paper carryout bags last year.

“At the time the governor called for a statewide solution — and that’s just what this bill provides,” Krueger said in a statement. “It asks New Yorkers to make a small sacrifice so that together we can have a big impact on our shared environment. I know we are up to the task.”

One of the purposes of the bill is to make shoppers bring their own bags from home, an idea that won over some grocery shoppers.

“It’s easy to put stuff and organize it in double-edged paper bags. It all gets so bunched up in plastic bags,” said Carlos Calderon, 31, on Third Avenue while carrying two paper bags full of groceries from Trader Joe’s. “I eventually will have a problem with paying for bags and [this bill] will make me start bringing my own reusable bag.”

Expressing concern for the environment, Iris Steinhart, 64, called the legislation a “double-edged sword,” while shopping for yogurt at a D’Agostino’s in Turtle Bay.

“You have a lot of poor people in the city who won’t be able to afford that extra fee. But it’ll also make people think before they shop,” she said.

At the same D’Agostino’s, another shopper could not fathom why the legislators couldn’t leave plastic bags alone.

“I have no idea why they are messing with plastic bags. There’s nothing wrong with them,” Margaret Loeb, 86, said. “Everything fits in them; they are easy to carry; I take them home and put them in recycling.”

The report released by Cuomo’s task force, however, delineates the problems that accompany the recycling of single-use plastic bags. Such bags contaminate recycling streams, jam machines and ultimately cost the city $12.5 million to dispose, the report added.

Another critique of the Krueger legislation, which carried over from the aborted New York City ban, is that it will prove detrimental to those employed in the plastic and recycling industries, according to Bob Capano, chairman of the Brooklyn Reform Party.

However, Cuomo’s report shows that when such regulations began to take effect in California, reusable bag companies emerged, creating jobs. This could very well be the case in New York, according to a spokesman from Krueger’s office.

Adding on to his critique of the bill, Capano said that the legislation will hurt small businesses.

“If stores are forced to start counting bags used for each customer so they know how much to add to the customer’s bill, this will take more time,” Capano said, adding that it will lead to longer lines at retail establishments, and subsequently, disgruntled customers.

Independent grocery store owners, however, did not mind the inconvenience if it benefited the environment.

“I’m supporting the bill, even if I lose some money to the state,” Joe Jo, 54, manager of Murray Hill Market, said, adding that some kind of a subsidy from the state for small business owners would be ideal. “I’m sure if we have a poster about it behind the counter, my customers will understand.

“It’s a very effective way to save the environment.”