ALBANY — Starting Dec. 1, it will cost at least a nickel to get a paper bag from a retailer by a count of 23-14
At its October meeting, the county Legislature fixed language in the local law passed earlier this year but deemed insufficient by the state.
The bag tax is part II of an effort to get people in the practice of using reusable bags when they shop. The first was a statewide ban on plastic bags that went into effect in March and then was suspended for a time due to COVID-19.
Retailers will collect the nickel, with 3 cents ultimately going to the state Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents back to the county to purchase reusable bags for those who can’t afford them. Any money left over at the county level that was not spent on that purpose must be turned over to the state Comptroller.
“Not only does this add costs to consumers, most of the tax collected goes to the state, not the county paying the bill,” said Legislator Mark Grimm, R-Guilderland. “At a time when the state is cutting aid to local governments, this takes money away from us and sends it to the state.”
All nine Republican lawmakers voted against the law with Democrats Sean Ward, D-Green Island, Gil Ethier, D-Cohoes, Bill Ricard, D-Cohes, Christopher Smith, D-Berne and Gary Domalewicz, D-Albany also voting no.
The vast majority of stores who sell retail goods must comply with the tax including grocery stores and supermarkets, hardware stores and clothing stores. Stores are not required to offer paper bags, which are more expensive, bulkier and not as easy to handle as plastic bags. Since retailers do not get a piece of the nickel tax they are forced to collect, many stores may simply not offer any type of bag or charge for paper bags in addition to the tax. Retailers could also opt to only sell reusable bags at checkout.
It applies to all paper bags issued to the consumer by the retailer unless the consumer is enrolled in an supplemental nutritional assistance program.
“The goal of charging the nickel is an incentive to get people to bring their own, reusable bags to retail stores to carry out their merchandise,” Legislator Joanne Cunningham, D-Delmar, a sponsor of the local law, said previously. “A fee on paper bags will help to incentivize consumers to bring their own reusable bags. This is the goal we are aiming for — reduce plastic use and reuse our bags when we shop.”
Any store not complying with the law will first get a written warning and then face a fine of $100. A third violation carries a fine of $250 and a fourth, $500 with a $100 a day fine associated with subsequent violations until the store comes into compliance. The retailer is prohibited from passing on any fine to an employee.
The county is responsible for enforcing the law.
When the state banned plastic bags, it gave counties the option to imposed the paper bag tax. The Albany County Legislature passed the local law in November, 2019, but it did not meet state guidelines and portions of the law had to be reworked.
A reusable bag, according to the state Department of Conservation, is any bag “made of cloth or other machine washable fabric that has handles or a durable bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse.”
A “durable bag” has a minimum of 125 uses, with each use the “equivalent to carrying a minimum of 22 pounds over a distance of 175 feet, according to the DEC. It must have a capacity of at least 15 liters and a minimum fabric weight of 80 Grams per Square Meter, which is a measurement of polypropylene density. The higher the GSM the more durable the bag. A reusable bag cannot be made of “film plastic, bioplastic, biodegradable materials, compostable plastic, plant-based materials or decomposable materials,” according to the DEC.
According to the governor’s office, New Yorkers were using an estimated 23 billion plastic bags a year and nationwide studies show that about 50 percent of single-use bags end up in the environment as litter.