Gov. Cuomo makes it official; signs plastic bag ban into law on Earth Day

Photo by Kevin P. Coughlin, Courtesy of the Governor’s Office
Governor Andrew Cuomo signs a bill into law banning single use plastic shopping bags in New York State at a ceremony held on Earth Day, Monday April 22, 2019 at Long Island University.

To celebrate Earth Day, Gov. Andrew Cuomo made one of his biggest budget priorities official and signed into law a ban on single-use plastic bags in New York.

The ceremonial bill signing took place at Clearwater’s Kingston Home Port and Education Center, with a second event at Long Island University, where the governor announced the ban would go into effect beginning March 1, 2020. This makes New York the third state to enact a statewide ban on plastic bags, following California and Hawaii.

It is estimated that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually, and national studies show that approximately 50 percent of single-use plastic bags end up as litter. In addition to preventing plastic bag litter in our environment, supporters of the ban say it will help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag production and disposal, from petroleum used to produce the bags to emissions from the transportation of bags to landfills.

“You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage,” Governor Cuomo said. “Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”

Under the new law, garment bags, trash bags and any bags used to wrap or contain certain foods, such as fruits and sliced meats are exempt from the ban.

Counties across the state will have the option of charging a 5-cent fee for paper bags instead. Revenue from the sale of paper bags will go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

Some people are worried that this optional fee will negatively impact lower-income New Yorkers. There is also concern that the new ban doesn’t go far enough, and that by making the paper bag fee optional for local governments, grocery stores and retailers will be prone to confusion. Environmental groups and state officials are hoping shoppers will begin using reusable bags instead.

The Governor’s Office says the DEC will make sure the new law doesn’t disproportionately impact low- and moderate-income communities by distributing reusable bags.

But in the meantime, environmental groups are celebrating a major policy victory that has been years in the making.

Because they do not degrade, plastic bags are broken down into “microplastics” while in the water and are mistaken for food and end up in fish, mammals and birds. Banning single-use plastic bags from most retailers and grocery stores is a big step towards a more environmentally friendly New York, supporters of the ban say.

“We pull plastic waste from the Hudson every day during the sailing season, whether we’re underway or not. All of it would otherwise break down into microplastics which wind up in the water, in the fish and in anyone that eats the fish,” said Clearwater Executive Director Greg Williams. “We’re delighted Governor Cuomo is signing the plastic bag ban bill, and is taking the opportunity to recognize environmental advocacy organizations in the process.”