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Source: Queens Chronicle

City bag bill is back, starting on Feb. 15

Five-cent fee applies to most paper, plastic grocery totes after 4-mo. delay


Posted: January 13, 2017
Originally Published: January 12, 2017

One of the hottest stories last spring was the City Council’s close and contentious vote to charge customers five cents for almost every paper or plastic grocery bag they use while food shopping.

Originally set to be implemented last October, the fee was pushed back to Feb. 15 when the state Legislature threatened to ban such fees. The issue faded into obscurity under things like the presidential election.

That could change once the new session of the state Legislature goes into high gear in the coming weeks.

Three state senators from Queens — all of whom opposed the Council measure — told the Chronicle that Albany could well be reviving the bag bill ban.

“The reason the Council delayed it until February is because the Senate was considering taking up a bill,” Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). “They may make us do that again. I’m not against recycling or reducing litter. This isn’t the way to do it.”

Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said while the session still is in its earliest phases, he is hearing that more action could be taken.

Comrie said last spring that the fee, which under statute is kept by the stores, would hit low-income residents the hardest, and that many people in his district could feel the effect of even a few dollars per month. But he also is not jumping on a Senate ban bandwagon just yet.

“I want to see what a new bill looks like,” he said in a telephone interview. “The last bill did nothing for people in my district.”

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) said the fee makes no sense.

“When we began recycling, we didn’t charge people,” he said. “We gave people the bins. And when I put my newspapers out, I put them out in a plastic bag and the Department of Sanitation takes it. Why can’t they take other plastic bags?”

Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn,) who sponsored the Senate measure last year, declined to comment. Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D-Staten Island), who sponsored the companion bill, could not be reached. Raul Contreras, a spokesman for Mayor de Blasio, said it still has City Hall’s backing.

“The Council passed a bill that struck the right balance,” he said. “It reduced reliance on single-use bags and incentivized the use of reusable bags while safeguarding consumers with logical exemptions to protect vulnerable New Yorkers. We are going to continue to work with our partners in the City Council and Albany on implementation of this legislation.”

Jordan Christiansen, program coordinator with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said she is encouraged by similar bills that have been passed or enacted in places like Suffolk County, Long Beach, LI and California, mostly modeled on an existing regulation in Washington, DC that has reduced bag usage by up to 80 percent. She said aside from removing trash from the waste stream, it makes economic sense by saving the cost of disposal.

“It’s well-crafted,” she said. “It also makes common sense. The bags were never free. This will reduce the number of paper and plastic bags and encourage people to bring their own.”