New York City Poised to Adopt Plastic Bag Fee to Curb Street Litter and Waterway Pollution

A diverse coalition of supporters, led by Councilmembers Brad Lander and Margaret Chin, and activist Jennie Romer, rally in support of bag legislation on steps of City Hall last month.
Credit: Paulina Muratore

The New York City Council is expected to vote this afternoon on legislation that would place a five cent fee on single use plastic and paper bags—a forward-looking initiative designed to slash the seemingly endless stream of plastic litter in the nation’s largest city.

The bill would place a five cent fee on plastic and paper carryout bags dispensed at supermarkets, grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies. Fees collected would be retained by the retailer, but shoppers who bring their own bags with them would be exempt from all charges.  

According to New York City officials, more than 9 billion plastic bags are discarded here every year and the overwhelming majority of them are never recycled. The bags often end up littering streets, hanging from trees, blowing along beaches and floating in local waterways.

The pending legislation is the most significant piece of environmental legislation to be propelled forward in the City Council this year.

The bill’s prospects have long been uncertain due to intense lobbying by the plastic bag industry, which has kept up the pressure in recent days.

However, experience in cities like Washington D.C., where similar laws have been enacted is that as implementation moves forward, shoppers adjust, habits change and litter and pollution are reduced.  

TODAY’S ENVIRONMENTAL CHAMPIONS: Top, the bill’s prime sponsors: Councilmembers Brad Lander and Margaret Chin. Below: Committee Chair Antonio Reynoso and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito
Credit: New York City Council

The bill’s original co-sponsors, Councilmembers Brad Lander and Margaret Chin, deserve great credit for shepherding the legislation for more than two years. They, along with Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, have responded to critics and revised the bill to address every legitimate concern.

For example, the bill’s fee was reduced from ten cents to five cents, which the sponsors concluded was a sufficient sum to incentivize New Yorkers to begin carrying reusable bags when they shop.  And to address the concern that the bill’s fee would be too burdensome on low-income New Yorkers, the bill provides that no fee shall apply to shoppers using supplemental nutrition assistance or similar (food stamp) programs.

Thank you to all twenty-six of the City Council members who are expected to vote in favor of the bill and provide a one-vote majority in favor of the bill. They are: Brad Lander, Margaret Chin, the Public Advocate (Tish James), Donovan Richards, Peter Koo, Stephen Levin, Elizabeth Crowley, Daniel Dromm, Mark Levine, Corey Johnson, Jimmy Van Bramer, Andrew Cohen, Costa Constantinides, Helen Rosenthal, Carlos Menchaca, Ben Kallos, Ydanis Rodriguez, Laurie Cumbo, Miller, Ritchie Torres, Antonio Reynoso, Rosie Mendez, Fernando Cabrera, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, Andy King, Jumaane Williams, and Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Congratulations to the diverse coalition of civic, community, school and environmental groups that supported this legislation during the multi-year campaign. In addition to NRDC, they include: activist extraordinaire Jennie Romer; Citizens Committee for New York City;  New York League of Conservation Voters; Cafeteria Culture; the Green Schools Alliance; The Nature Conservancy; New York Audubon; the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, We Act for Environmental Justice; the West Harlem Morningside Heights Sanitation Coalition; Civitas and many, many more.

UPDATE: The New York City Council voted this afternoon to approve this legislation by a vote of 28 to 20. Assuming the bill is signed by the Mayor, whose administration has supported the bill, the new law will go into effect this coming October.


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