The New York City Council introduced legislation Wednesday that would charge customers 10 cents for plastic or paper bags at most city stores.
The fee would apply to grocery stores, bodegas, street vendors selling fruits and vegetables, as well as clothing, drug, and department stores. Shoppers would get a pass on take-out bags at restaurants, prescription bags at pharmacies and bags at liquor stores.
New Yorkers currently throw away 5.2 billion plastic bags per year, which costs the city $10 million a year to transport the waste to landfills. Plastic bags are also guilty of clogging up city storm drains, which exacerbates flooding. Plastic bags have a significant climate impact — in the U.S., plastic bags take about 12 million barrels of oil to produce each year. The bill is aiming for a 90 percent reduction in single-use bags.
This is not the first time such a ban has been proposed. Last August, council member Brad Lander sponsored similar legislation but that measure only garnered the support of eight council members and so never even made it to a vote.
The current proposal, brought by both Lander and Margaret Chin, differs from previous attempts because store owners will keep the proceeds from the bag fee — which changes the measure from a tax to just another product being sold in stores.
The fee on paper bags is being included to encourage changes in consumer behavior. If no bags are free, supporters of the measure, hope customers will learn to bring their own.
CBS New York reported that so far, 19 council members are already behind the measure. 26 are needed to send it to Mayor Bill de Blasio for approval.
Whether or not de Blasio will sign off on the measure, however, is still unclear. Speaking publicly on the issue yesterday, the mayor was at best vague.
“I can tell you the broad principle: plastic bags are a problem. And our goal has to be to reduce the use of plastic bags. There’s a lot of different ways to do that,”said de Blasio. “I’m certainly looking forward to seeing this legislation. But I can tell you, as a societal goal, it’s something we have to work on and we have to work on quickly.”
If New York City does go ahead with the charge, the city will be in good company. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington D.C. have similar measures in place. And the Chicago City Council will vote next month on an ordinance that would ban retailers from using plastic bags. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday, that Emanuel would support the move.
Last year, the mayor rejected an ordinance that limited the ban to retailers with more than 5,000 square feet of floor space. The new measure covers all sized retailers.