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Grocery bag fee bill passed by City Council

By Madina Toure

Although Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others praised the passage of a bill instituting a minimum 5-cent grocery bag fee, some maintain it will adversely affect low- and middle-income individuals and families.

The City Council passed the bill, which advocates contend will reduce plastic-bag waste in New York City, by a vote of 28-20. The legislation will go into effect in October 2016.

The mayor said his administration has committed to sending zero waste to landfills by 2030 in the OneNYC plan and that the city is partnering with the Food Industry Alliance and the New York Metropolitan Retail Association to distribute reusable bags to New Yorkers.

“The Department of Sanitation projects that this 5-cent fee could reduce plastic and paper bag waste by approximately 60 percent, based on the experiences of other cities,” de Blasio said.

Queens Council members who voted in favor of the bill include Councilmen Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria), Peter Koo (D-Flushing), Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Paul Vallone (D-Bayside), Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst).

“The unsustainable status quo must be addressed by finding ways to encourage sustainable habits,” Constantinides said.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Councilmen Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest), Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) voted against the bill. Councilman Ruben Wills (D-South Ozone Park) was not present for the vote due to medical reasons.

Koslowitz said a better incentive would have been a 5-cent discount for customers who bring a bag with them to the grocery store.

She said there are people in her district who live on fixed incomes and she had received “so many phone calls” about the bill.

“Even now when I’m walking in the street, people stop and say, ‘Thank you for voting against it,’” she said.

Ahead of the vote, Grodenchik said the City Council is placing “yet another burden” on working men, women and seniors.

“If this intro passes and is signed into law and three-quarters of the bags are no longer dispensed, that would still leave us with 2,325,000,000 bags being dispensed annually,” Grodenchik said. “At a nickel a pop, that is $116,250,000 flowing directly out of the wallets of New Yorkers and into merchants’ hands.”

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the city has always worked toward the goal of being an environmentally responsible city.

“With this legislation, we can take a step toward a cleaner and sustainable city by incentivizing New Yorkers to not add to the billions of carry out bags currently being used each year,” 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 commissioner for the city Department of Sanitation will have to establish an outreach and education program aimed at educating residents and covered stores by increasing the distribution of reusable carryout bags.

Residents in households with an annual income below 200 percent of the federal poverty line will get priority

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

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