Months after the mayor proposed a ban on foam takeout containers, City Council members have found a new target to make the city greener: the plastic bag.
City Council members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin announced Tuesday what they called a common-sense bill to cut the use of single-use plastic shopping bags. Under the proposal, all grocery stores and retailers would be compelled to charge customers 10 cents for every bag used. The measure would encourage people to start reusing the bags they already have at home, the bill's sponsors and environmental advocates said.
Council member Lander said that similar laws in other cities across the nation had cut plastic bag use 60 to 90 percent. "We've been able to spend six months talking to retailers and small businesses in a productive dialogue, doing research, to figure out the best way to do this," said Lander. "There's something to be said for being first. But we've been able to look at other cities to see what the best practices are."
Advocates say New Yorkers throw out 5.2 billion bags a year and spend $10 million on transporting bags to landfills. Lander, Chin and a coalition of around 20 environmental groups want New York to join West Coast cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles in cracking down on plastic bag waste.
But not all New Yorkers are keen on the idea, pointing to the trade-off in cost and convenience. "People have to get their groceries home somehow," said Ken Warner, 48, of Brooklyn. "It might only be 10 cents, but for some people every 10 cents counts."
The American Progressive Bag Alliance, which promotes the plastic bag industry, said in a statement that paper and cotton bags require more energy to produce than plastic bags and that "on a per bag basis, plastic bags are more resource efficient, reduce landfill waste and generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions than alternatives."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a failed 5-cent plastic bag tax in 2009, which would have required approval from state lawmakers. Sponsors of the new bill stressed that the proposed 10-cent surcharge would be pocketed by retailers, rather than the city, and that people shopping with food stamps would be exempt from the charge. All grocery stores, retail stores and street vendors would be required to charge customers per bag, but restaurants would be exempt under the current proposal.
Sally Lyon, 34, of Battery Park, said as left a sandwich shop near City Hall with a reusable cotton bag under her arm that she thought the proposal was a smart idea. "New York is an environmentally aware city — but we also use a lot of the resources, so we should be," she added.
A city council proposal to ban plastic foam takeout containers was met with criticism by the restaurant industry in June. The bill to curb plastic bag use will be introduced Thursday.