Thursday, 16 February 2017

NYC Will Continue to Drown in Plastic Bags For the Foreseeable Future

If you live in New York you know about the plastic bag problem. Walk down a city street in late February, after months of spotty trash pickup due to inclement weather, and you will be hard pressed to find a tree that isn't covered in plastic bags. It's become such a fixture of the city, that the New Yorker published an illustration last year of a plastic grocery bag waving proudly atop the Empire State Building's needle.

This will not be changing anytime soon. New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo—under pressure from the Republican controlled state legislature—signed a moratorium this week nixing New York City's proposed five cent plastic bag fee, just hours before it was scheduled to take effect. The Bring Your Own Bag Law, as it is called, has been part of a larger effort by the city to curb the 9 billion plastic bags wasted each year. That amounts to nearly 91,000 tons of plastic trash.  

"While New York City's law is an earnest attempt at a real solution, it is also undeniable that the city's bill is deeply flawed," Cuomo said in a public statement. One conflict, he said, is that the five cent fee would go to businesses as profit. He argued the possible $100 million per year made from the fee should benefit the city or state instead of merchants.  

According to state law, New York City can't levy taxes on its citizens without approval from Albany. The rule was an attempt to circumvent that, but despite the city council voting to adopt the law after a lengthy two year process of hearings and public debate, Albany intervened anyway.

The state's move is in keeping with the current dismantling of environmental regulation by Republicans at the national level, who, in the last couple weeks, have wielded an arcane act to vanquish rules regarding stream protection and fossil fuel transparency.

New York City councilmembers released a public response to the moratorium saying "Carryout bag fees are the right policy—that's why they have been adopted in cities from Washington, DC to Seattle, the entire state of California, and in countries from Ireland to Israel to South Africa."

Plastic bags are "stubborn and toxic forms of waste," they argued, adding that "they never biodegrade, so they pollute our trees, oceans, and landfills forever. And they are hard to dislodge from the state legislature, too." Cities like San Francisco that have implemented plastic bag fees and bans have seen as much as 90 percent reduction in plastic bag waste.

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, who signed off on the plastic bag fee, called the moratorium a "mistake" during an interview with NY1 on Tuesday night. He lamented that the rule was designed to change people's behaviors when it came to using plastic bags, but that "Now we have a status quo that's not going to get us anywhere."

Cuomo, for his part, acknowledged the terrible toll that plastic bags take on the environment and taxpayers wallets for their cleanup, but insisted that "It is a statewide challenge. As such, a statewide solution is the most appropriate way to address this issue."He said he will be forming a task force to assess plastic bag waste and come up with such possible statewide legislation on the matter by the end of the year. The earliest the state could make any move on modifying, authorizing or repealing it is January 1, 2018, after the November elections that fall.  

In the outer boroughs of New York that have lower skylines, you can sometimes pick out the errant plastic bag gliding through the air hundreds of feet above rooftops, like a magic carpet. For now, it looks like the bags are going to remain a part of the skyline.     

from NYC Will Continue to Drown in Plastic Bags For the Foreseeable Future

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