New York is poised to become the second state to adopt a plastic bag ban.
Lawmakers in Albany are heading to a vote on a plan that would ban plastic retail bags and give cities and counties the choice of levying a 5-cent fee on paper bags.
Details of the plan, included in a $175 billion state budget proposal supported by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and released late March 28, did not seem to entirely satisfy any side in the debate.
If adopted, New York would join California, where lawmakers passed the first statewide plastic bag ban and paper bag fee in 2014 and voters ratified it in 2016.
Environmental groups called it a step forward but said it may trade a plastics bag problem for a paper bag problem.
Businesses complained as well. New York's trade group for convenience stores, which supported a 5-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags, on social media called the move the "worst policy: [a] patchwork of taxes, confused customers, retailers stuck collecting, explaining, & incurring new costs."
The American Progressive Bag Alliance, which represents the plastic bag industry, said the plan "missed the mark on sustainability by forcing consumers to use bags that are worse for the environment" and is a "massive" cost increase for retailers.
"It is clear that this provision was hammered out behind closed doors in a last-ditch effort for a press release," APBA said in a March 29 statement. "There are significant problems with the language that will need to be addressed by follow-up legislation. It is safe to say this is not a done deal."
The budget plan also does not include another environmental measure Cuomo has backed: an expansion of the state's bottle bill to include deposits on non-carbonated beverages, liquor, wine and cider.
But it was plastic and paper bags that generated much more discussion in the state.
After rumors flew all week about what was coming, details of the bag plan were released March 28. Lawmakers were scheduled to vote on the state budget package by March 31.
The bag provision would take effect in March 2020. It would exempt many types of plastic bags, including those used for uncooked meat, fruits, vegetables and candy, newspapers, carryout bags in restaurants and for prescription drugs.
Cuomo has said it is important to ban plastic bags because they pollute waterways and the environment and impose significant cleanup costs on cities. New York City alone spends $12.5 million a year cleaning up plastic bags, he said last year.
But the environmental organization New York Public Interest Group said the state "missed the mark" in not requiring a fee on paper bags, as California did.