The New York State Senate voted June 7 to block local efforts to ban fees on disposable shopping bags —a move that would block New York City's recently-approved 5-cent fee —but also voted to support a move requiring more signage and better placement of bag recycling bins at stores.
State Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from the New York borough of Brooklyn who caucuses with the Republicans, said the bag fee amounts to a tax, even though it would be kept by retailers. His bill, approved 36-22, prohibited "any tax, fee or local charge" on carryout bags of any kind in the state. The measure would still need to pass the state's other legislative house, the Assembly—a possibility that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has not ruled out—and be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to become law.
The Senate also approved legislation June 7 that calls for stores of at least 10,000 square feet, or 5,000-square-foot stores that are part of a chain, to install bins to collect plastic bags for recycling.
But New York City has had such a law for years. Largely forgotten, it has done little to divert the billions of plastic bags that end up as litter or in landfills, environmentalists say. The measure applies to supermarkets of 5,000 square feet or more, and like the new Senate bill, it was passed as part of an effort to block legislation to reduce the use of disposable bags.
A news release from Sen. Tony Avella, a Queens Democrat who also conferences with Senate Republicans, said his bill, S.7085A: "requires stores to place plastic bag recycling receptacles with a sign in plain view where consumers can return used plastic bags from previous shopping trips or any other type of plastic sacks such as newspaper and dry-cleaning bags."
His release did not say the bill actually requires that the bags be recycled, although his spokeswoman said later that plastic bags left in the bins must be recycled under existing state law. Bags are not part of New York City's curbside recycling program, and frequently get stuck in the equipment used by the city's recycling vendor to separate and process metal, bottles, jugs and rigid plastics.
The Avella spokeswoman said his bill would enhance the current state and city laws by making stores place already-required collection bins in a more visible and easily accessible place, requiring that retailers recycle all bags that are dropped off, as well as requiring that bags say on them, "Please return to a participating store for recycling."
She added that the bill would force retailers to keep three years of records detailing collection, transport and recycling of plastic bags by weight.
The city's existing bag-bin law, however, also requires data to be gathered.
It is unclear if the Avella bill will be seriously considered by Assembly Democrats, who control the lower chamber.