Want a bag? Better bring your own

GHENT–As of Sunday, March 1, a new state law takes effect that prohibits stores from providing customers with most single-use plastic bags. State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos announced the final regulations this week.

Enacted as part of 2019-20 state budget, Article 27 of the Environmental Conservation Law was amended to create a new Title 28 for the NYS Bag Waste Reduction Act. According to the DEC, “The law… prohibits the distribution of plastic carryout bags by retailers in New York State.”

A plastic carryout bag is defined by the state as any plastic bag that is provided to a customer by “a person required to collect tax to be used by the customer to carry tangible personal property.” There are plastic bags that are exempt but the law says that, starting March 1, all plastic carryout bags are banned from distribution by anyone required to collect state sales tax.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed the legislation on Earth Day, April 23, 2019. A press release from the governor’s office says, “It is estimated that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually, and nationwide studies show that approximately 50 percent of single-use plastic bags end up as litter. In addition to preventing plastic bag litter in our environment, this ban will also help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag production and disposal, from petroleum used to produce the bags to emissions from the transportation of bags to landfills.”

The release from the governor also said that “DEC will work with stakeholders and community leaders” to ensure the new law doesn’t “disproportionately impact low and moderate income and environmental justice communities.”

The DEC has undertaken a statewide public awareness campaign—BYOBagNY. According to a press release from the agency, the state is distributing more than 270,000 reusable bags “with a focus on low- and moderate-income communities.” The campaign includes TV, radio and YouTube ads, boosted social media placements, a Google ad campaign, and video promotions at Thruway rest stops.

Commissioner Seggos said in the release that the DEC would continue to work to “combat climate change and protect the environment,” and he encouraged state residents to “bring their own reusable bags wherever and whenever they shop.”

As part of the changes to the regulations announced this week, the DEC has edited the definition of “exempt” and “reusable” bags, with further clarification and examples. The changes also clarify that reusable bags must be made of cloth or other machine-washable fabric or a non-film plastic.

• Reusable bags as defined on the DEC website say that the bag “has a minimum lifespan of 125 uses, with a use equal to the ability to carry a minimum of 22 pounds over a distance of at least 175 feet.” There is also a minimum thickness of 10 mils for bags and a minimum fabric weight of 80 grams per square meter (GSM).

The DEC says the law applies not just to grocery stores. “Whether you’re going to the grocery store, clothes shopping, or to a home improvement store, make sure to bring your reusable bags.”

• Exempt plastic bags include those used solely to contain: uncooked meat, fish or poultry; to package bulk items such as fruits, vegetables, grains or candy; to contain food sliced or prepared to order; and for newspaper for delivery to a subscriber.

Also exempt are: bags sold in bulk to a consumer at the point of sale; trash bags; food storage bags; garment bags; bags prepackaged for sale to a customer; plastic carryout bags provided by a restaurant, tavern, or similar food service establishment, as defined in the state sanitary code, to carry out or deliver food; and bags provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs.

• 5 cent fee: Cities and counties can adopt a 5-cent paper carry-out bag reduction fee. If passed by the municipality, consumers will be charged 5 cents for each paper bag provided at checkout. According to the DEC, the fee does not apply to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) recipients. The DEC says it is currently distributing hundreds of thousands of reusable bags across the state with the help of partner state agencies and Feeding New York State, the statewide food bank organization.

Also, stores covered under the new law will still be required to collect plastic bags and other film plastics from consumers for recycling. Film plastics include items such as bread bags and plastic wraps that come over cases of water, and paper towels.

The Hudson Area Library recently announced that it is collecting tote bags and partnering with the Columbia County Department of Social Services (DSS) to distribute the bags to residents who may have a hard time purchasing reusable bags. The library is at 51 North Fifth Street. Tote bags can be left in the bin by the main desk. For library hours go to http://hudsonarealibrary.org/

Both the Hannaford supermarket in Kinderhook and the Price Chopper in Chatham/Ghent are offering reusable bags, 2 for $1. The Hannaford store has a sign at the self-check out announcing the single-use plastic bag ban and telling custumers the store will be charging a fee for paper bags.

“Hannaford will be charging a 5-cent fee in an effort to reduce single-use bags in the environment and encourage the use of reusable bags,” the sign reads.

For more information about the plastic bag ban, visit https://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/50034.html, email , or call 518 402-8706.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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