New York City retailers will be required to collect a minimum fee of five cents for carryout bags, plastic or paper, as the result of legislation that narrowly passed through the City Council, 28 to 20.
With limited exceptions, the bill will apply to retail, convenience, and grocery stores in the city, and these retailers will be allowed to keep the fees. Although the bill will go into effect on October 1, it will not be actively enforced until April 2017. City mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the legislation.
The main goal of the proposal is not to collect money from New Yorkers, but to change their behavior, and dependence on plastic bags, for the good of the environment. In other cities where similar fees have been enacted, there has been a rewarding drop in the use of plastic bags, which cannot be recycled.
“The fee is irritating, which is precisely why it works,” Councilman Brad Lander and Councilwoman Margaret Chin, a main sponsor of the legislation, said in a statement. “We don’t want to pay it so we’ll bring bags instead. So the fact that it’s irritating irritates a lot of people.”
Exemptions will apply to restaurants and street vendors, grocery stores when the bags are used to store meat and produce, soup kitchens, state-regulated liquor stores, and pharmacies that use paper bags for medicine. Food stamp recipients will also be exempt from the bill. Detractors of the bill have accused the city of seeking to enrich the private sector by taking from the poor and middle class, but city leaders insist that the measure is an important ecological initiative.
During a recent radio interview, Mayor de Blasio called the move “essential for the good of our environment,” adding, “I think it’ll change the behavior quickly and not hit people’s pocketbooks in any meaningful way.”