Under a plan approved by New York state lawmakers, plastic bags would be banned outright. But counties and cities would be given an option for a nickel fee on any paper bag provided to consumers; 60 percent of the revenues would go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and 40 percent would go to the county or city enacting the paper bag fee. The localities can use the revenues to purchase and distribute reusable bags, mostly for low-income residents.
A number of carve-outs are included in the plastic bag ban, such as people enrolled in the SNAP and WIC low-income programs would be exempt from the charge. Also, plastic bags could still be given to consumers to hold prescription drugs, newspapers, and items such as sandwich meat sliced to order at grocery stores. Also, plastic garbage, garment and restaurant takeout plastic bags will still be permitted.
Jo Natale, a Wegmans spokesperson, said a plastic bag ban would have a “significant financial impact” on the grocery industry. “A plastic bag ban that doesn’t also address the use of paper bags is not a sustainable solution,” she said. “Just one implication and there are others: It takes seven tractor-trailers to transport the same number of paper bags as plastic bags carried by one tractor trailer.”
Paper bags also are more expensive — five times more expensive than a plastic bag, according to the New York State Food Industry Alliance. Letting counties impose a 5-cent tax on any paper bag provided to consumers could mean the fee is passed on to the customer.
That means customers would likely pay 5-cents per bag but the retailer, which pays more for paper bags, wouldn’t get to keep any of it. Under that current scenario, 60 percent of the revenue collected would go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, while 40 percent would go to the locality. “There’s no relief whatsoever to the retail food industry,” said Michael Durant, president and CEO of the New York State Food Industry Alliance.
Leaving the 5-cent tax option up to each municipality could lead to a confusing patchwork of rules, which could create other headaches for retailers, Durant said. “You could have the City of Buffalo say ‘We’re gonna charge a fee of a nickel on paper bags,’ but then you can have Tonawanda say, ‘We’re not going to impose a fee on paper bags,’ and then you could have Cheektowaga say they want to ban paper bags as well,” Durant said. “So you could have a Tops with stores in all three cities dealing with bags in different ways.”
Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, said he believes banning plastic bags will simply cause a run on paper bags, despite any 5-cent tax. “If you place a fee on plastic and not paper, customers shift to paper,” Calvin said. He thinks adopting a 5-cent charge for paper and plastic single-use bags would be a better solution.