Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Department of Sanitation has backed a City Council proposal to charge shoppers a 5-cent fee for paper carryout bags. “This bill not only encourages bag reduction but also promotes responsible reuse to achieve our goal of diverting materials from the City’s waste stream and reaching zero waste,” Bridget Anderson, the department’s deputy commissioner of recycling and sustainability, said in testimony to Council lawmakers.
The city appears ready to quickly take advantage of a provision in state law allowing cities and counties to impose such surcharges on their own. Council members announced plans to pursue the fee just a day after state lawmakers approved a statewide ban on most single-use plastic bags.
The city legislation would require merchants to charge the 5-cent fee for each paper bag they provide to customers starting on March 1, 2020, the same day the plastic bag ban takes effect. Merchants would collect the fees as a tax and remit them to the state quarterly.
State law allows the city to keep 40% of the proceeds to distribute reusable bags to low- and fixed-income people, while the rest would go to the state Environmental Protection Fund. New Yorkers making purchases with food stamps or funds from similar programs would be exempt from the fee under the Council bill.
The fee could curtail New Yorkers’ use of paper and plastic bags, which take a toll on the environment, Anderson said. The Sanitation Department collects more than 1,700 tons of single-use carryout bags a week on average, which adds up to 91,000 tons of paper and plastic bags a year, she said.
Reusable bags, on the other hand, “can be used dozens or hundreds of times, can be made from nearly 100% recycled products, and do not litter our trees, parks, waterways, and beaches,” Anderson said in her testimony.