Any retailer - from grocery to clothing to home improvement stores - required to collect New York State sales tax is prohibited from distributing plastic bags after March 1. Some exemptions include plastic bags used at some pharmacies, as well as clear plastic bags used for bulk items, such as vegetables, fruits and meat.
The Department of Environmental Conservation, in conjunction with other state agencies, will enforce the law. There will be a grace period as businesses and consumer adjust to the ban.
Over 23 billion plastic bags are used in New York State annually.
“They are only used approximately 12 minutes,” said Councilman Peter Koo last week at a press conference to announce a reusable bag giveaway in his district. “They get caught in trees and clog catch basins.”
To prepare for the ban, the Department of Sanitation (DSNY) has been conducting outreach efforts and handing out free reusable bags at events across the city. According to Nick Circharo of DSNY, the city has given away over 700,000 bags since 2016.
In addition to helping the environment, the ban should save the city money.
“It costs the city over $12 million annually to dispose of the bags,” said Circharo.
The Koo-hosted reusable bag giveaway will take place at Sky Foods in the Shops at SkyView Center on College Point Boulevard on February 29 at 10 a.m.
Under the new law, cities and counties are allowed to charge consumers five cents for a paper carryout bag. Three cents will go to the state, and two cents will go back to the municipality to be used to fund the distribution of more reusable bags.
However, according to Benny Wu of Sky Foods, the cheapest paper bag he has found that he can buy in bulk costs 15 cents.
“And it’s not even very good quality,” he said.
Wu said he will have to charge the customer more than five cents to avoid taking a loss.
“And being a supermarket we sell a lot of wet items, so I know customers are going to demand two bags,” he said.
In addition, it is illegal to charge the paper-bag fee to people who are recipients of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits. Wu hopes the outreach efforts have been effective.
“I just hope that people are aware the ban is about to go into effect,” he said. “I expect there is going to be a lot of confusion.”