On Sunday, March 1, plastic bags are banned in New York state.
The law is geared to “train” customers to bring their own reusable bags while shopping at grocery stores and other retail establishments.
Any retailer required to collect sales tax can issue paper bags, but as of March 1 cannot hand out film plastic bags to customers. Retailers can also choose to not hand out any bags, charge for bags at checkout or, in municipalities that opt into the state program, collect a nickel tax per paper bag.
Albany County opted into the nickel tax program, which would mandate 3 cents go to the state Environmental Protection Agency and 2 cents going to the county to purchase reusable bags for those who cannot afford them.
A film plastic bag, by state definition, is one “for which there is no reasonable or practical alternative for storing, containing or transporting items.”
There are some exemptions to the plastic bag ban:
• Bags used solely to contain or wrap uncooked meat, fish, seafood, poultry, or other unwrapped food, flower, or plant item,
• Used by a customer solely to package items from bulk containers, including fruits, vegetables, grains, candy, small hardware items (such as nuts, bolts, and screws), live fish or live insects,
• Used solely to contain food sliced or prepared to order
• Used solely to contain a newspaper for delivery to a subscriber,
• Sold in bulk quantities to a consumer at the point of sale that were specifically prepackaged in a manner to allow for bulk sale,
• Sold as a trash bag,
• Sold as a food storage bag, such as those in snack, sandwich, quart, and gallon sizes,
• Used as a garment bag, such as those used by a dry cleaner or laundry service,
• Provided by a restaurant, tavern, or similar food service establishment, as defined in the state sanitary code, to carry out or deliver food,
• Provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs.
Reusable bags can be purchased in a number of retail establishments for as little as 49 cents. Stewart’s is selling them for $1. Earlier this month the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced it was distributing some 250,000 bags to food pantries.
In addition to state Environmental Conservation Law penalties, retailers in Albany County will receive a written warning for a first violation of the law. The second violation will earn a $100 fine, the third violation equals a $250 fine and a fourth violation will cost the retailer $500. For each subsequent violation, the fine will be $100 a day until compliance is achieved
According to the state, the parameters of a reusable bag are:
• One that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuses,
• Has a minimum lifespan of 125 uses, with a use equal to the ability to carry a minimum of 22 pounds over a distance of at least 175 feet,
• Holds at least 22 pounds for the duration of the lifespan of the bag,
• Has at least one strap or handle that is separately attached, does not stretch and is fastened to the bag in such a manner that it allows the bag to meet the strength and durability standards,
• Is hand or machine washable,
• Has a minimum thickness of 10 mils for bags made of polyethylene or other plastic material,
• Has a minimum fabric weight of 80 grams per square meter for bags not made of plastic,
The law is designed to eliminate, or greatly reduce, the 23 billion plastic bags used in New York state every year. Many of the bags are not disposed of properly and end up in the environment, often times seen blowing around streets or stuck in trees and ultimately end up in the waterways.
Business owners or shopping establishments who have questions regarding implementation of the ban or otherwise are encouraged to contact DEC via email at [email protected] or call (518) 402-8706.
“The Retail Council has been working with its members large and small for the past year to help them get ready for March 1,” said Ted Potrikus, president and CEO of the Retail Council of New York State, in a statement. “Now that the state has finalized its regulations, we have a clear idea of what we can offer to our customers.”