On May 5, 2016, the New York City Council passed the “Plastic Bag Bill” (Int. 209-A), which will impose a minimum fee of five cents for plastic and paper bags at retail, convenience and grocery stores − with some exceptions. The bill passed by an unusually close vote of 28 to 20, and is now on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s desk for his expected signature.

The five-cent per bag fee will be retained by the store to cover the cost of providing bags, with the goal of incentivizing customers to bring their own multiuse bags. The bill includes exemptions for take-out or delivery orders from restaurants, produce and prescription medications from pharmacies. In addition, stores must waive the charge for providing paper or plastic bags for transactions where the customer is using food stamps. Customers of emergency food providers, such as food pantries, also would be exempt from the charge.

Pending the mayor’s expected approval, the fee will take effect on October 1, 2016, but enforcement by the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs will not commence until April 1, 2017. Stores that do not comply with the proposed law would pay a $250 fee for a first offense and $500 for any additional offense.

Annual Reporting and Implementation

To measure the progress of plastic bag reduction, the bill requires annual reporting to the mayor by the departments of Sanitation, Environmental Protection and Consumer Affairs, and the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability.

The reports must include:

  • The amount of plastic carryout bags in the residential waste and recycling streams
  • The amount of plastic or paper carryout bags identified as litter on streets and sidewalks and in parks
  • The amount of plastic or paper carryout bags found in city storm drains
  • The number of warning notices or notices of violation of the law issued, broken down by community district
  • Any cost savings for the city attributable to carryout bag reduction, such as reduced contamination of the residential recycling stream or reduction in flooding or combined sewer overflows
  • Gross revenue generated by covered stores from the sale of carryout bags, including the percentage of such gross revenue attributable to paper, plastic or reusable carryout bags, respectively
  • Comparisons of such measures to their respective amounts in previous years.

The bill also mandates that the Commissioner of the Department of Sanitation establish an outreach program to educate residents and covered businesses on reducing the use of single-use carryout bags and increasing the use of reusable carryout bags. To the extent practicable, the department must seek the assistance of private entities and local nonprofit organizations to provide signs to businesses and distribute reusable carryout bags to residents.

Council members who opposed the bill explained that it would have an unnecessary financial impact on struggling New Yorkers. The bill also was opposed by the plastic bag industry – represented by its lobbying association, the American Progressive Bag Alliance – which cited similar concerns.

According to the Department of Sanitation, New York City pays an estimated $12.5 million to transport an estimated 91,000 tons of plastic and paper carryout bags to landfills each year. New York City now joins San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and other major cities that have passed measures to curb the use of plastic bags.