DEC will delay enforcement of plastic bag ban until April 1

Legislative Gazette file photo

The penalties for the plastic bag ban originally set to go into effect statewide this past Sunday, have been pushed back until April 1, 2020. The law is being challenged in state court by Poly-Pak, a Long Island plastics manufacturer as well as 5,000 bodega owners in New York City who call the ban unconstitutional.

Last Friday an agreement was filed in the New York State Supreme Court, and as a result, state Department of Environmental Conservation agreed “to take no enforcement action” until at least April 1. As a result of the extension, grocery stores and bodegas will not be fined for providing single-use plastic bags throughout March.

The ban seeks to prohibit single-use plastic shopping bags from being distributed at stores that are required to collect sales tax, including small businesses, retailers and grocery stores. It nearly eliminates the use of plastic bags in New York and permits counties to opt in on a 5-cent fee on paper bags, a chance to influence consumer behavior.

Beyond the waste factor of single-use plastic bags, environmentalists hope to see a reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions used to produce and transport them. It is estimated that eight to ten percent of our oil supply goes into making plastic. Local environmental groups have been fighting for a statewide ban on plastic shopping bags, like those included in the ban, for over a decade.

A nationwide study estimated that nearly 50 percent of all single-use plastic bags end up as litter, both on land and in water, harming wildlife and contaminating food sources. According to the Center for Marine Conservation, plastic bags are among the 12 most found items of debris in ocean and coastal clean-ups. New Yorkers are estimated to use 23 billion plastic bags annually, with an estimated usage of 12 minutes per bag globally.

While the plastic industry and bodega owners argue the ban unconstitutional, some environmentalists argue that it is not enough and worry of a loophole that would allow for the production and use of plastic bags that are just a bit thicker than the usual single-use bags.

Regulations allow stores to give out plastic bags that can be used at least 125 times, carry 22 pounds and have a strap that won’t stretch through regular use. Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state DEC, encourages shoppers to start using sturdy reusable bags similar to those made of canvas or polyester.

Sen. Liz Krueger said in a statement, “As with so many of our environmental challenges, at the end of the day the solution to plastic bag pollution will require all of us to make small changes in our daily routine,” ending with, “before the 1970s, no one used plastic carryout bags. I am confident that New Yorkers are up to this challenge.”