ALBANY — State environmental regulators recently said enforcement would start later this month of a plastic bag ban enacted earlier this year after delays related to a legal challenge.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said the state’s ban on single-use plastic carryout bags would be enforced starting Oct. 19. Initially slated to go into effect March 1, the ban was not enforced as part of an agreement in a legal challenge brought by Poly-Pak Industries and others in state Supreme Court, but the bag ban was upheld in a decision issued Aug. 20.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the plastic bag ban legislation on Earth Day last year, calling it a significant step to reduce pollution and protect fish and wildlife. Cuomo said the ban would cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment for future generations, noting single-use plastics do not degrade and often end up as litter that harms wildlife.
With the ban, New York joined California and Hawaii as states banning single-use plastic bags.
“You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage,” Cuomo said at the time. “Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags each year, calling it “a staggering amount,” and noting each bag is used on average about 12 minutes before most end up in landfills.
“From the beginning and all the way through the coronaviurs pandemic we said our focus would be first on education with enforcement to follow,” Seggos said, noting enforcement was delayed by the lawsuit.
“But the court decided in our favor and this decision is a vindication of our efforts to clean up New York, provide a more sustainable New York and it’s something we can all be proud of,” Seggos added.
New Yorkers are encouraged to utilize reusable bags wherever and whenever they shop, and the state is running a Bring Your Own Bag New York campaign to raise awareness. The Bag Waste Reduction Law applies to more than just grocery stores, according to DEC, which says whether you're going to the grocery store, clothes shopping, or to a home improvement store, make sure to bring reusable bags.
Shoppers can use any type of bag, including film plastic, but DEC noted there are alternatives that are more environmentally friendly. DEC says ideally a bag should be washable and designed for multiple uses. For those who are forgetful, many retailers will sell reusable bags or offer alternatives, such as paper, but not every store is required to have bags available for customers.
There are some exemptions under the law, according to the DEC, which notes plastic bags may still be distributed to consumers under specific circumstances, such as a bag used by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs, and produce bags for bulk items such as fruits and vegetables. The DEC, however, encourages consumers to use reusable bags as much as possible.
The DEC said the agency is currently conducting outreach to stakeholders, including grocery stores, retailers and others, to provide notice ahead of the start of enforcement.