Ahead of his State of the State and budget address Tuesday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that a bottle bill expansion and plastic bag ban will be included in the 2019 budget. Environmentalists praise the move but want to ensure it goes far enough while at least one industry group is concerned the bag ban could go too far.
In his Sunday announcement, Governor Cuomo said he is advancing what he calls commonsense legislation to ban single-use plastic bags statewide. The Democrat addressed the reasons while speaking with WAMC’s Alan Chartock on The Roundtable Monday.
“We can provide renewable bags. We can without cost,” Cuomo says. “We just, it’s expensive, ugly, dangerous, ruins the environment and it’s purely unnecessary.”
Former EPA regional administrator Judith Enck is visiting professor at Bennington College.
“Well, is it too corny to say it’s a mixed bag? Because it is. I applaud the governor for proposing to ban plastic bags. That is very much needed in New York state because of the growing problem of plastic bag litter, much of it often getting into our rivers and ultimately the ocean,” Enck says. “It’s really encouraging to see that. But, unfortunately, the governor missed a really important opportunity to promote sustainability by not having a fee proposed on paper bags.”
Enck, a WAMC contributor, says charging this fee encourages consumers to bring their own bags. She says there are 331 local bag laws on the books across the U.S. and feels the best are the hybrid bans, such as the one signed in Ulster County in October. It includes a provision to exempt low-income families from paying the $0.05 for each recyclable paper bag provided to customers. About one month later, Dutchess County legislators approved a plastic bag ban, but without the paper bag fee. Liz Moran is environmental policy director with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
“We’re excited about the governor’s announcement, but we have to see what he ultimately proposes. A plastic bag ban with a fee will be what’s best for the environment,” Moran says. “It’ll make sure that we cut back on paper, which has a huge carbon footprint. It’ll be effective in educating the public that they need to bring their reusable bags as well.”
That paper bag footprint is one reason Michael Durant is concerned about the proposal. He is president and CEO of the Food Industry Alliance of New York state.
“If you had the same amount of plastic bags versus paper bags, it’s seven, it takes seven more trucks to one truck to transport paper bags over plastic. So there’s a carbon footprint not only in making paper but also in transporting paper, storing paper,” Durant says. “So we feel that just banning plastic bags and not addressing paper and not working with the industry to promote the utilization of reusable bags will cause any environmental, positive environmental impact by the governor’s proposal to be shortsighted, and to fall short.”
Meantime, the governor proposes expanding the bottle bill to make most non-alcoholic beverage containers eligible for 5-cent redemption, including those for sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable beverages and ready-to-drink teas and coffee, with some exceptions, including for milk and dietary supplements. NYPIRG’s Moran.
“This is the first proposal to expand bottle bill since it was expanded in 2009 to include water bottles. And it’s time to finish the job,” says Moran. “This is a great law. It’s been extremely effective. It’s brought in revenue that’s gone towards New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund. And it’s time to expand it so the public knows exactly what they can recycle, municipalities have less to deal with and we also help their programs, too.”
A spokesman for the American Beverage Association says, in part, “America’s beverage companies are working together to protect the environment and we look forward to continuing to work with Gov. Cuomo and his administration to improve access to recycling, expand litter recovery efforts and reduce the amount of plastic in our containers.” He adds that ABA’s companies already produce 100 percent recyclable containers. Judith Enck worked on the original bottle bill in 1982 and wants to see the bill include more than this latest proposal.
“And now is the time to update the 1982 law with deposits on noncarbonated beverages,” says Enck. “And I would say the governor could go even a little further and require deposits on liquor bottles, on wine bottles and on hard cider.”
Cuomo says he will direct the Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct a study, in consultation with industry participants and retailers, on how the bottle bill could be further expanded to include wine and liquor bottles.