Enforcement on the ban of single-use plastic bags at New York retailers on March 1 is expected to be lenient at the start, as final regulations for the ban are finalized.
As of Sunday, March 1, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legislation goes into effect, banning plastic bags statewide.
However, amid fears of a paper bag shortage, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reportedly acknowledged that retailers may not have had enough time to remove plastic bags from their stores.
As a result, the NYSDEC plans to let retailers finish off their supplies of plastic bags after the March 1 deadline, “until further notice.”
“Enforcement will follow in the months ahead,” said DEC Chief of Staff Sean Mahar, in a WAMC radio interview this week. “Our goal is to make sure that there’s a smooth transition for consumers and affected retailers with this ban, so we’re going to continue that education effort. But we want to give a period of transition. So everyone can come into compliance here, but as of March 1, single-use plastic bags are prohibited.”
Once supplies of plastic bags are finished, reusable bags made of cloth or other machine-washable fabric or non-film plastic material will be required to be used and provided by retailers.
The new regulations released this week will allow stores to issue plastic bags if they are washable, can be used at least 125 times, carry 22 pounds over at least 175 feet, and have an attached strap that doesn’t stretch with normal use. Regulators also proposed that any reusable plastic bags be at least one-hundredth of an inch thick.
It is estimated that a paper bag shortfall could last upwards of five years, and there have been reports of outages in the Midwest due to retailers attempting to bolster their supplies. Fear of shortages has led to store owners attempting to find short and long-term solutions.
Experts estimate that New York will require four billion bags — approximately 52 percent of all the production capacity in North America - to comply with the new law.
New York joins California, Oregon, and Hawaii as the only states where single-use plastic bags have been banned. Single-use paper bags will still be available for a five-cent fee.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, single-use plastic bags are one of the top five single-use plastics found in the environment by magnitude, and they are one of the top five items encountered in coastline clean-ups.
Between 500 billion and one trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled in the United States and they are not acceptable at certain recycling centers.
The EPA estimates that 80 percent of plastic pollution in the ocean originated on land, which includes plastic bags, and in New York, residents use 23 billion plastic bags annually, which contributes to pollution both on and off land. These bags do not biodegrade and they persist for years.
"Plastic pollution has become a serious threat to our lakes, rivers and marine environment as well as public health. Scientists are finding plastic pollution in shellfish and finfish, making its way to our dinner plates,” Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito said. “Giving up plastic bags and using reusable bags is one easy, reasonable step each member of the public can take to help combat the plastic pollution epidemic.
"It is time for everyone to get on the plastic bag 'ban wagon.”
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