I’m no tree hugger, but I like to think I’m environmentally conscious and agree that plastic bags should be steadily phased out. But the process should be undertaken without enforcing a fee on consumers, who could easily avoid the charge by recycling plastic bags or bringing a reusable bag.
Nonetheless, thanks to both branches of the state legislature, who voted for a moratorium this week, New Yorkers won’t have to shell out a nickel when they use disposable — plastic and paper — shopping bags at retail businesses, at least for another year.
My key objection to the proposed legislation is that the proceeds were nothing but a gratuitous price increase to reward the retailer, but it was neither meant to augment the city’s treasury nor was it earmarked for any environmental venture. Some opponents objected to legislation’s vague language, which required stores to charge “at least five cents” per bag, leaving the option to charge more.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind co-sponsored the moratorium “to find a way to come up with something that may be more acceptable.”
A ten-cent fee for plastic bags was first proposed nine years ago, by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but it failed to attract City Council backing. The current bill, introduced in 2014, reduced the per-bag fee to five cents.
Last weekend, conservation groups and fee proponents on the City Council urged Albany lawmakers not to block the proposal. But, on Monday, the state Senate overwhelmingly voted for a one-year moratorium for implementing the fee with the Assembly passing a similar bill Tuesday.
Following a close City Council vote last year, the fee was almost introduced hoping to encourage shoppers to use reusable bags, but it was delayed.
Supporters assert the fee will save the environment by encouraging shoppers to use reusable bags rather than plastic ones.
Opponents maintain the fee is unfair for lower and middle class consumers. But, Mayor de Blasio said free reusable bags will be distributed citywide to reduce the demand for plastic bags. He also stated that consumers who use food stamps will not be required to pay the extra nickel. But, opponents point out that is tantamount to a penalty for non-food stamp consumers.
Critics of the mayor said the city should expand plastic bag recycling efforts, as well as offer incentives for using reusable bags instead of the fee, noting the impact the fee would have on “those who can least afford it — without providing any meaningful benefit to the environment.”
Some maintain that plastic bags are neither efficient nor environmentally friendly. The New York League of Conservation Voters estimates that New York City residents discard 10 billion bags annually. The city claims it costs $12.5 million a year to send plastic bags to landfills and even more to remove them from beaches, parks and other public spaces.
A few years ago, the Save the Plastic Bag Coalition maintained that plastic grocery bags are produced from a by-product (ethane) of natural gas refining. By not using ethane in the production it would harm the environment and add to global carbon dioxide emissions. By not extracting the ethane it would be unsafe to transport and use.
Plastic bags are no longer produced from crude oil. They have an unlimited recyclable life compared to the paper bag in which its fibers break down after being recycled five times. Plastic bags are more economical to produce and transport, while paper weighs is a hundred times more when shipping. Plastic grocery bags are also easier to recycle at stores where drop-off bins are located at entrances.
Furthermore, it’s estimated that reusable and paper alternatives cost a lot more money to manufacture and are likely more hazardous to the environment. Plastic bags may have a negative impact when improperly disposed, but, no trees, which are vital to the environment, are necessary to produce them. Plastic bags, therefore, don’t destroy the environment before they are used by the public.
|Carelessly discarded plastic bag |
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Rather than charging a fee for plastic bags, stores could issue a nominal credit or discount for each reusable shopping bag the shopper uses. That way, the burden for those with limited budgets would actually become a small incentive.
According to the New York Times, there are currently plastic bag fees in more than 200 municipalities in 18 states across the country.
Several years ago when the plastic bag debate heated up, I purchased a few reusable shopping bags — for a nominal cost — that I regularly use when I shop for groceries. I also reuse plastic bags that I occasionally store for reuse.
Consumers are always nickled and dimed or unduly penalized in some fashion. Price hikes are often disguised with smaller product packaging (i.e. a standard can of tuna fish has shrunk from 8 ounces to a mere 5). Consequently, innocent consumers don’t readily realize the veiled price increase.
But, fees for disposable bags? We don’t need no stinkin’ fees!