As Earth Day was celebrated Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that bans single use plastic bags in grocery stores and other retail shops in New York.
Cuomo, crumpling a plastic bag in his hand for effect, says the bags “look harmless enough,” but are actually dangerous to the environment, and New Yorkers use 23 billion of them a year. They end up in landfills and on the street. Cuomo, an avid deep sea fisherman, says they also clog up the waterways.
“I have been fishing 40 miles out to sea and found plastic bags. They're everywhere,” the Democrat said. There's no doubt they're doing tremendous damage. By 2050, there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish.”
Cuomo says he knows that change is hard, but he says it’s really a “minor inconvenience” to bring reusable bags with you to the store.
“Yes, like you have to remember to go to the store, and you have to remember to bring your keys, and you have to remember to find a way to get there, and you have to bring your wallet or your purse to pay,” Cuomo said. “And don't forget the phone because you can't go anywhere without the phone.”
A recent Siena College poll finds the majority of New Yorkers support the ban, but there are opponents.
During debate on the measure on the Senate floor in late March, Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican from Long Island, called the bill a “sham," and said he doesn’t think it will solve the pollution problem. He predicted some people will hoard the bags in anticipation of the ban.
“There are going to be just as many bags out there as there are now,” said Lanza. “This legislation doesn’t prevent me or any person back home, from going down the aisle where they sell the plastic bags in the supermarket and buying as many as they want. Hundreds, thousands. You might want to start storing up now. And the reason they do that is not because they don't like the environment. It's because they're looking for convenience. They're looking to be able to provide for their families in the least expensive way, the most efficient way."
The law also includes a way to discourage the use of paper bags as a substitute for plastic bags. Counties can decide if they want to impose a five cent fee on paper bags. Efforts will be made to help lower income New Yorkers who might find buying the bags a hardship.
Some single-use bags, like garment bags, trash bags and bags used to wrap foods like fruit or sliced meats, will still be legal.
New York follows California and Hawaii in banning the bags. The law takes effect March 1, 2020.