While paper bags are an improvement on the far-too ubiquitous plastic bags that plague our beaches and sewers, some were concerned that passing out paper bags in lieu of plastic ones would end up being just as harmful to the environment. This newly-minted paper bag fee is aimed at addressing that pitfall, and decreasing single-use waste in general.
The council voted in favor of implementing the paper bag fee on Thursday by a margin of 38 to 9. Each nickel collected will be split between New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund and New York City’s initiative that donates reusable bags to residents, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. This city legislation surrounding paper bags was intentionally fast-tracked to take effect on March 1st of next year, the day the state’s ban on disposable plastic bags will be implemented.
Council members officially agreed to ban takeout plastics last month, which can pile up in landfills for centuries; more than 10 billion of these bags are used in New York City each year. According to some representatives, this two-pronged, complementary approach to environmental legislation symbolizes one of New York’s most significant attempts at waste reduction in a while.
“Adding a 5-cent fee on paper bags to New York’s new plastic bag ban will dramatically reduce solid waste and make the new policy a genuine win for the environment, and I’m thrilled the Council passed our legislation to be ready for Earth Day,” Council Member Brad Lander said in a statement. The hope is that this new fee, paired with the state law, will encourage New Yorkers to put their closets full of tote bags to use. “[To] truly see a reduction in waste, our policy must encourage people to switch to reusable bags, which everyone can do," said Lander.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to sign the legislation, so it looks like the five-cent cost for paper bags will officially take effect early next year.