By Juan Soto
To pay or not to pay?
That’s what the City Council is trying to decide when it comes to the future of the urban plastic bag. Some Council members support a bill calling for a 10-cent fee on every plastic bag stores give out to their customers when they shop for groceries, electronics or clothing.
Supporters argue the fee will help the environment by reducing waste. But opponents say the 10-cent charge is just another tax on New Yorkers disguised as a fee.
Proponents of the bill maintained plastic bags “are among the more problematic types of trash and litter.” They added that it takes the bags between 500 and 1,000 years “to decompose in a landfill,” according to the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management.
Some municipalities in Calif., including San Jose, Los Angeles and Santa Monica, have banned plastic bags outright, and they have added a fee for paper bags.
And across the Atlantic, Ireland, for example, imposed a 15-euro cent per bag in 2002, reducing plastic bag use by 90 percent.
According to the Sanitation Department, the city generates about 100,000 tons of plastic bags a year at a cost of $10 million. The city agency said plastic bags accounted for about 2 percent of the city’s waste stream in 2013.
I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) are two of the 21 councilmen sponsoring the bill.
“Our community has been a victim of environmental injustice for far too long and issues such as this are a part of that greater picture, along with waste capacity and fair share,” Miller said. “We host regular community cleanups in our district and certain products are repeat offenders when it comes to litter, but none more so than plastic bags.”
Richards also believes the community should act now.
“It is time that we carefully reconsidered our reliance on the misleading disposable bag,” said the lawmaker, chairman of the Committee on Environmental Protection. He pointed out the bill “challenges the notion that consumers must rely on these bags to complete everyday tasks.”
Others councilmen oppose the legislation.
“Plainly speaking, the plastic bag fee is just another back door tax that I cannot, in good conscience, support,” said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park.) “My constituents already pay enough taxes, fines and fees and don’t need the city thinking of more ways to nickle-and-dime them.”
Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) believes that there are other solutions to the plastic bag conflict.
“I think there are better ways to address the problems caused by the plastic bags that too often end up in landfills or entangled in trees and catch basins,” the lawmaker said.
Reach reporter Juan Soto by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4564.