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ALBANY, NY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced legislation on January 13 that would ban most single-use plastic bags in the state, to be included as part of his proposed 2019 budget. In making the announcement, he once again contrasted environmental actions in Albany against those taking place in Washington, D.C.
“While the federal government is taking our environmental progress backwards and selling out our communities to polluters and oil companies, in New York we are moving forward with the nation’s strongest environmental policies and doing everything in our power to protect our natural resources for future generations,” Cuomo said. He went on to say that the bag ban, along with the proposed expansion of the Bottle Bill, “will reduce litter in our communities, protect our water and create a cleaner and greener New York for all.”
The move comes nearly two years after the governor blocked a plan by New York City officials that would have instituted a five-cent fee on plastic bags in the city. Cuomo said at the time that the plan was flawed and would allow merchants to keep the fee as profit, which could have amounted to $100 million. Cuomo promised to establish “a state-wide task force to develop a uniform state plan for addressing the plastic bag problem.”
The Plastic Bag Task Force released a report on January 13, which estimated that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually. “Single-use plastic bags are a detriment to the health of communities and the environment alike,” the report concluded. “From the significant recycling and disposal issues they pose as litter and the harm they create to wildlife, their negative impacts can be seen daily.”
Cuomo said his legislation would also include an expansion of the Bottle Bill, which was first passed by the legislature 30 years ago. Cuomo said the legislation has since diverted 320 million tons of glass and plastic and other recyclables away from landfills, and reduced the release of one billion metric tons of carbon dioxide that would have been required to create the bottles to replace those that have been recycled.
Now, Cuomo is proposing to add most non-alcoholic beverage containers, such as those containing sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable beverages and iced tea, to the list of containers which have a five-cent redemption value. The bottle bill expansion would have some exemptions for bottles containing dairy milk, milk substitutes, infant formula, syrups and flavorings, medical prescriptions and dietary supplements.
Environmental groups hailed Cuomo’s initiative, but also called for simultaneously instituting a fee on paper bags when plastic bags are banned. “This is the beginning of the end for the scourge of plastic bag pollution in New York. However, experience shows that a fee on paper bags must accompany the proposed ban on plastic bags, to avoid a serious increase in paper waste and pollution,” said a joint statement from the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Riverkeeper.
The plastic bag ban is highlighted in this issue’s Sustainability section, pages 10 to 14.