New York's plastic bag ban can move forward, a state judge ruled Aug. 20, although groups on both sides of the debate found things to like in the court ruling.
The head of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation praised the ruling as a vindication and environmental groups said it removed what had been a potential loophole.
But a plastic bag maker who joined the lawsuit, Poly-Pak Industries Inc., and the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance said the ruling points out flaws in the law and called on legislators to get involved again.
The issue in the court case centered on implementing regulations from DEC that were originally planned to start March 14, but a court challenge from businesses and the coronavirus pandemic delayed that. The business groups argued that the DEC rules were arbitrary and vague.
New York Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly ruled against the business groups in most of their challenges but did restrict some of the state DEC's regulations. The law banned many retail plastic bags and allowed local governments to put a 5-cent fee on paper carryout bags.
Basil Seggos, the commissioner of the New York DEC, saw the ruling as supporting the state's efforts.
"The Court's decision is a victory and a vindication of New York State's efforts to end the scourge of single-use plastic bags and a direct rebuke to the plastic bag manufacturers who tried to stop our law," he said. "DEC encourages New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common-sense precautions to keep reusable bags clean."
But Peter Levy, the president of Poly-Pak, said the court also ruled that the DEC overstepped.
"We greatly appreciate that the court agreed with our premise that the state DEC overstepped its powers in drafting unworkable regulations for the ill-conceived bag ban," Levy said. "But now we are back at square one: With a poorly written policy that threatens the very existence of many companies, some of whom have been located in New York for decades."
Levy urged lawmakers to come up with a better plan, and pointed to Suffolk County, which had a 5-cent fee on both single-use plastic and paper bags, as a potential model.
"We stand ready to assist in that process, and point to existing local approaches — like the one in Suffolk County — as a potential compromise solution," Levy said.
ARPBA said in a statement that it wanted lawmakers to come up with a new plan that "doesn't put undue burdens on businesses that have been hardest hit by the pandemic."
"The ruling makes clear what we have been saying all along: New York's bag ban is broken," the plastic bag group said. "Now elected officials have the responsibility to craft a workable solution."
But environmental groups in general gave the ruling unqualified praise. They said the judge's decision to toss out DEC rules on minimum thickness amounted to removing a loophole they said would have undermined the ban as passed by the Legislature by allowing thicker plastic bags.
"It is terrific that New York's plastic bag ban was upheld and that the court rejected the loophole that would have allowed for stores to hand out thicker plastic bags, almost defeating the original purpose of the law," said Judith Enck, president of the group Beyond Plastics and former regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in New York and other northeastern states. "Once fully implemented, New Yorkers will see less plastic bag litter in our communities, parks and waterways."