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Source: Queens Chronicle

Plastic bag task force findings to Legislature

Environmental groups disappointed over no consensus on restrictions

BY MICHAEL GANNON, EDITOR

Posted: January 19, 2018
Originally Published: January 18, 2018

The long-anticipated report of Gov. Cuomo’s plastic grocery bag task force is leaving some environmental advocacy groups underwhelmed as the 86-page report’s recommendations now head to negotiations between the administration and Legislature.

The report lays out eight options ranging from keeping or improving existing plastic bag recycling regulations to outright bans and a mixture of bans and per-bag fees.

The task force was established last February when Cuomo signed a moratorium striking down a citywide law that would have set up a minimum 5-cent fee on most paper and plastic grocery bags.

In a statement issued by the New York League of Conservation Voters on Saturday, Marcia Bystryn, the group’s president and a member of the task force, said she was disappointed in the panel’s final report.

“As a member of the Plastic Bag Task Force, I have consistently maintained there are only two acceptable recommendations: a fee on both plastic and paper bags or a hybrid model that bans plastic bags and institutes a fee on paper,” Bystryn said. “It is the long-held position of the environmental community that a successful solution must include a fee component on all single-use bags.”

Any other measures, she said, would not go far enough to reduce the demand for bags being manufactured and put into circulation. She said evidence from other municipalities and countries shows that when a fee is attached, single-bag use can drop dramatically.

Cuomo established the task force in order to secure a statewide solution for a policy on plastic bags, which the administration acknowledges are hazardous to the environment and costly to governments.

Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), who wrote the original bill in the City Council, said Saturday that the report is a failure of leadership on Cuomo’s part.

“The report released today ... continues to acknowledge ‘the costly and negative impact’ of single-use plastic bags,” Lander said in an email from his office. “But it completely fails to deliver the promised ‘statewide solution.’ It is merely a long list of options — which could have been complied from internet research — that includes doing absolutely nothing at all.”

Lander added that since the moratorium — aimed at New York City alone — city residents have sent more than eight billion plastic bags weighing more than 80,000 combined tons to landfills,

The report states that any fee imposed would fall disproportionately on low- or fixed-income residents; ban proponents have said an unspecified number of reusable bags could be distributed in low-income areas.

The report also pointed out that 69 businesses in the state manufacture plastic packaging materials, including 30 that primarily make plastic bags. A 2012 economic census by the U.S. Department of Commerce, stated that those 30 companies employ 1,491 people with an annual payroll of $63.7 million.

The American Progressive Bag Alliance, an advocacy group for manufacturers, states that the industry provides about 3,000 jobs in the state.

Adrienne Esposito, president of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said she too was disappointed that the task force could not coalesce around a smaller number of options that would reduce or eliminate plastic bag use.

“We’re still calling on Gov. Cuomo to keep his promise,” Esposito said in an interview with the Chronicle. “The task force is completed, but that doesn’t take Gov. Cuomo off the hook.”

Esposito said for only a few dollars, residents could acquire enough reusable bags to last them three to five years apiece, thus avoiding any future bag fee that might be imposed.

“Ideally, we don’t want anyone to have to pay the fee,” she said. As to manufacturing jobs, she said there is enough call for plastic products to allow for a smooth transition.