On Thursday, May 5, the City Council voted to pass Councilman Brad S. Lander’s bill to impose a minimum fee of five cents for plastic or paper bags at retail, convenience and grocery stores with limited exceptions. I have opposed this fee since it was first introduced, and this past week I joined Assemblyman Michael Cusick and Sen. Simcha Felder at a press conference opposing this fee.
As a former member of the Department of Sanitation, I am very sensitive to the need to remove plastic bags from our waste stream. Unfortunately, a bag fee is not the most efficient way to do this, and worst of all it represents a regressive tax on hardworking New Yorkers. Bag fees add up, and while people at higher income levels may not be affected by an extra quarter on their weekly grocery bill, there are many New Yorkers for whom this is a serious problem, particularly seniors and the working poor. Moreover, because the extra fee goes directly to the businesses, the bags represent an extra source of revenue, and there is no incentive for storeowners or cashiers to actually reduce the number of bags they give to consumers.
There is no question that we create entirely too much plastic bag waste in the city of New York, but we need to work to reduce this waste in a way that is more efficient and less costly to New Yorkers rather than a bag fee. This is why I have introduced a bill to the Assembly that would ban plastic carry-out bags in New York. The bill requires that stores instead supply customers with 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper bags and/or biodegradable bags, or alternatively give customers a reusable plastic bag for a deposit, which can be returned for a full refund. Banning the bag is the best solution for both the environment and hardworking New Yorkers.
Michael DenDekker is a member of the NYS Assembly representing East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and Woodside and a retired member of the NYC Dept of Sanitation