A Law To Help the Planet

Law for Charging a Nickel for Using Plastic Bags Set to Start on February 5th.

Updated 3 years ago David Stone
One Million Plastic Bags Every Minute
One Million Plastic Bags Every Minute
Photo Courtesy Duncan Hull on flickr

An unusually contentious bill that will force consumers to pay a nickel when choosing plastic over reusable bags passed the City Council in May before encountering fierce resistance in Albany.

There are exceptions, and some accidental humor spices the rancor.

With efforts to kill the bill unsuccessful so far in the State Legislature and Assembly, the City has begun notifying businesses that the law will take effect on February 5th.

Said Council Member Ben Kallos, whose district includes New York's must eco-friendly neighborhood, Roosevelt Island, and the Upper East Side, "Since I signed on as a co-sponsor to the plastic bag bill, my office has distributed over 500 free reusable bags to East Siders and Roosevelt Islanders so we can lead the movement to environmentally friendly bag use.

"As New Yorkers, we have a responsibility not only to do our part in protecting the environment but set the standard in the global effort against pollution and climate change,” the Council Member continued in a statement to the Roosevelt Island Daily.

“While plastic bags are unsightly when seen floating in the air or hanging in trees, they also have a huge impact in how much trash we send to our city’s landfills. Currently, plastic bags account for 7,500 garbage truck trips every year, exacerbating the problem that has the poorly conceived Marine Transfer Station is supposed to address. Decreasing the number of plastic bags is crucial to achieving Zero Waste in this decade."

Other contributions to the debate were not as well put.

"Your argument is full of dog poop," declared Antonio Reynoso, Council Member from Bushwick and a proponent of the fee after hearing Breezy Point's Erin Ulrich plead, "What are we going to do with people who walk their dogs? Rubber gloves are too hands-on. I don't know what to tell the dog owners in my district."

“The fee is irritating, which is precisely why it works,” added Council Member Brad Lander, also of Brooklyn.

But first, the exceptions. In the following situations, plastic bags won't cost you a nickel or a dime, which is the original and probably eventual target:

  • Take out from restaurants and prepared food from street vendors
  • Used for produce at markets
  • Products from State regulated liquor stores
  • Used by soup kitchens
  • Groceries bought with food stamps

Some arguments against the law carried broad appeal. One of the most convincing, a complaint that the nickel fees go to the store owners, encouraged comment from Bertha Lewis, a leader at the Black Institute: “I was in Washington, D.C., when the bag fee happened, and you know what? It was to clean up the river. These funds are being dedicated to the pockets of the retailers.”

"This fee is regressive, and burns the communities it's trying to help," added Vincent Gentile of Bensonhurst.

But Mayor DiBlasio stood with proponents. “I think it’ll change the behavior quickly and not hit people’s pocketbooks in any meaningful way,” he said, unaware apparently that roughly 50% of us don't carry pocketbooks.

In a note of sobriety, "Climate change is real," said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, "and the devastation that's happening is very real and frightening."  

The law will take affect in October, although it will not be enforced until April, 2017.


"We're not going to take people by surprise," explained Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Vivereto, who for some reason thought it would take New Yorkers a year to adjust to the measure.

We saved the final word for Council Member Lander: "So the fact that it’s irritating irritates a lot of people.”

Hard to top that logic.

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