Boro electeds divided over bill proposing grocery bag fee

By Madina Toure

A City Council bill mandating a minimum 5-cent fee for grocery bags has divided

Queens Council members.

The legislation, sponsored by Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Councilwoman Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan), would require retail and grocery stores to charge at least 5 cents for plastic and paper bags.

A spokeswoman for Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said a vote was likely to happen Thursday.

The proposed charge would be retained by the store to cover the cost of providing bags. Customers who bring their own bags would not be charged. The legislation also includes informational outreach components and giveaways of reusable, recyclable bags.

Mark-Viverito said that city must undertake a bold approach in order to reduce plastic bag waste.

“The legislation before the Council does just that, by incentivizing New Yorkers to bring our own bags—with commonsense exemptions for economic and logistical realities faced by consumers and retailers,” Mark-Viverito said.

A spokeswoman for Mark-Viverito said the city pays an estimated $12.5 million to transport 91,000 tons of plastic bags and paper carry-out bags to landfills in other states each year.

New Yorkers use 9.37 billion carryout bags per year, the vast majority of which are not recycled, the spokeswoman said.

The bill has 26 sponsors, including Councilmen Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) and Councilwomen Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst).

“This bill encourages New Yorkers to use reusable bags and make environmentally conscious decision-making a part of everyday life,” Crowley said.Van Bramer echoed similar sentiments.

“I support the bill because this small change will encourage the use of reusable bags, and experts predict it will reduce plastic bag waste by 60 to 90 percent,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Ferreras said the councilwoman was expected to vote in favor of the bill.

Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) said people living in his district live on fixed incomes, noting that the seniors live in small households so they shop every day, creating an additional cost for them.

“If their projections hold and we got rid of three-quarters of the 9.3 billion bags we use every year, that would still cost New Yorkers $116 million a year,” Grodenchik said.

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) saidresidents of the Pomonok public housing development will be adversely affected by the requirement, Lancman said.

“These are very, very poor people who now are either going to have to pay an extra couple of dollars as week for their groceries or figure out a way to get a hold of recyclable bags, carry them…wash them out so they don’t have bacteria,” he said.

Councilmen Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) previously spoke out against the bill.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) introduced a bill requiring store owners to keep their plastic bag collection bins at the entrance with a sign and to empty them regularly.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.