Americans go through a lot of plastic bags—more than 100 billion each year. And all those plastic bags do a lot of damage. They get caught in trees, clog storm drains, and harm wildlife. Birds, fish, sea turtles, and other animals get tangled in plastic bags or mistake them for food and choke. Plastic bags also waste taxpayer funds. In New York City, we pay an estimated $12.5 million to ship 91,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills each year. Plus, plastic bags often jam recycling equipment, leading to expensive repairs.
That’s why New York has joined cities across the country and around the world in trying to reduce our use of plastic bags. Our new law will require stores to charge at least 5 cents for each paper or plastic bag.
But the goal is not to collect the fee. Instead, we want this small charge to encourage people to use reusable bags. We bring a backpack when we go to school and keys when we leave the house. We can all remember to bring reusable bags when we shop. In other places that have adopted fees for bags, that’s exactly what people have started to do.
It’s hard to believe that a small charge could have such a big impact on protecting our environment. But according to research, fees have already proved effective in reducing plastic or paper bag use in a number of places, including Washington, D.C.,* Los Angeles, Germany, and England. Some experts predict that a 5-cent fee will lead to a 60 to 90 percent reduction in the use of plastic bags in New York City.
We want to make this new law work for all New Yorkers. That’s why low-income residents who buy their groceries with food stamps will be exempt from paying the fee. We’ve also committed to giving away tens of thousands of reusable bags at events across the city so everyone will be ready for the change.
We’ve still got a lot of work to do to improve our environment and cut back on waste. But with our new bag law, New York City will be off to a strong start.
New York City Councilman
*Some studies about Washington, D.C.’s bag fee have found it to be effective; others have not.