New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration claimed Nov. 19 to be committed to dramatically reducing plastic bag consumption in New York City, but would not endorse legislation imposing a 10-cent fee on disposable shopping bags.
Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia testified at a City Council hearing that such a fee has been a "successful approach in other cities." Still, Garcia said requiring stores to charge a dime was "one of many strategies" possible here, and the administration was working to "understand what has worked well and what has been challenging" in other cities with bag-reduction laws. Residents here use 5.2 billion disposable bags a year, according to bill proponents.
The fee — which would not apply at some food-service establishments, or when shoppers use food stamps — would have major environmental benefits, said Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander, a co-sponsor of the legislation.
The city spends $10 million annually to truck disposable bags to landfills, but many plastic bags end up in trees and catch basins, according to bill supporters. The fee would encourage the use of reusable bags, which would be distributed to low-income neighborhoods. Businesses would keep the 10 cents paid for paper or plastic bags, and would not have an associated paperwork requirement.
A number of City Council members spoke against the measure at the hearing. Bronx Councilman James Vacca said it would cost his constituents $5 or $6 a week, and especially hit the poor and elderly.
"This is a hidden tax,” Vacca said. "This is a tax that is going to hit people least able to afford this tax, and it's going to hit them where it hurts." Proponents say it's not a tax because the money would not go to the government.
Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco and 139 other municipalities have already implemented measures — including outright bans — to cut down on plastic-bag consumption and have seen reductions of 60 percent to 90 percent. The New York bill borrows from other cities' bills but does not replicate any one of them. The legislation has 21 co-sponsors, five short of a majority of the council. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito is still reviewing it.
A Washington, D.C., official testified that a 5-cent fee imposed there had proven high enough to change behavior, but low enough not to be a burden. But there has been confusion among businesses about which retailers should apply the fee, the official said.