Senator Serrano and Leaders Encourage Sustainable Choices

José M. Serrano

May 04, 2009

Senator Serrano, Sanitation Commissioner Doherty, City's Sustainability Director Aggarwala, and Assemblymember Kellner Announce Legislation to Make New York City a Pioneer in Protecting the Environment by Encouraging Sustainable Choices

City Residents Use Billions of Plastic Bags Per Year

Five Cent Plastic Carryout Bag Fee Will Help Reduce Litter
and Number of Bags That Enter Waste Stream

Sanitation Commissioner John J. Doherty and the Director of the Mayor's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability Rohit T. Aggarwala today joined State Senator José M. Serrano and Assembly Member Micah Z. Kellner to announce the introduction of legislation that will protect the environment and raise revenue for the City by placing a fee on plastic carryout bags. The proposed plastic bag legislation will require that every store in the City that collects sales tax charge customers 5 cents per plastic carryout bag. Any store that distributes plastic carryout bags that are less than 2.25 millimeters thick and with handles will be required to assess the fee on customers and pass the revenue on to the City.
"This bill represents a constructive and innovative path to improve the health of our environment," said State Senator José M. Serrano (D-Manhattan/Bronx), a member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee. "We are not simply attacking the epidemic of plastic bags, but providing real alternatives that will significantly reduce the amount of garbage in this State. My hope is that, when this bill becomes law, it will also encourage residents to protect the environment in other ways, both large and small: by conserving energy in their homes, utilizing mass transit, and reducing litter in parks."
"Not only do plastic bags litter our neighborhoods, their production depletes global natural resources and contributes to carbon emissions and climate change," said Director Aggarwala. "This fee will raise people's awareness of their disposable bag use, including how bags are thrown away and whether they are needed at all."
 "Based upon a recent residential waste characterization study, there are approximately 5.2 billion plastic carry out bags annually in New York City's residential waste," said Commissioner Doherty. "What's worse is that carry out plastic bags often become windblown litter and can remain in places like tree tops indefinitely."
Commissioner Doherty and Sustainability Director Aggarwala were joined at the announcement, held at Madison Square Park in Manhattan, by Senator Serrano and Assembly Member Kellner who are introducing the bill in Albany. They were also joined by Marcia Bystryn of the New York League of Conservation Voters, Mary Barber of the Environmental Defense Fund, co-founder of FEED projects and fashion designer Lauren Bush and representatives from community groups that support conservation.
"New Yorkers throw out 5.2 billion plastic bags every year causing irreversible environmental damage. If New York really wants to be green, there's no better example to follow than the Emerald Isle, where consumers enthusiastically changed their habits after a plastic bag fee was introduced there," said Assembly Member Micah Z. Kellner (D, WF - Upper East Side, Yorkville, Roosevelt Island). "In Dublin, it has gotten to the point that it is now taboo to be seen with a plastic bag. New Yorkers deeply care about their environment, and I'm sure that after this is implemented, the Big Apple with soon be known as the Big Green Apple."  
This proposal is part of Mayor Bloomberg's comprehensive sustainability agenda and will contribute to the waste prevention goals in New York City's Solid Waste Management Plan.  The Plan establishes a cost-effective, equitable and environmentally sound system for managing the City's waste for the next 20 years, and it is a key part of the City's effort to improve air quality, cut traffic, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Plastic bags are one of the most visible forms of litter and a major component of New York City's waste stream. The proposed fee will reduce waste and litter from plastic carryout bags and encourage the use of reusable bags. It will raise consumer awareness about individual plastic bag use and will encourage them to consider reusable bag alternatives. This will reduce the number of plastic bags that become litter and that end up in the waste stream. The City anticipates an initial 10 percent reduction in plastic bag usage, while raising approximately $100 million in the first year alone.
If passed, the New York City plastic carryout bag fee will be the first of its kind to be implemented in the nation. There is currently a plastic bag levy in Ireland set at 33¢ USD on most single-use bags sold to consumers at retail outlets. Ireland saw a 90 percent reduction after the first year when the fee was originally set at 22¢ USD. In Canada, effective June 1, 2009, Toronto shoppers will pay a fee of 5¢ per plastic shopping bag.  
"This is a smart, flexible answer to a tough environmental problem," said Mary Barber, Managing Director of the Living Cities Program at the Environmental Defense Fund. "The fee makes the high environmental cost of plastic bags visible to everyone, so that New Yorkers can make the choice of using them, reusing them, or bringing their own bags. Anyone who doesn't want to pay the fee won't have to. Either way, we'll help stop the litter and take one step toward less dependence on oil."
"Over 380 billion plastic bags are consumed in the US every year.  It is imperative that New York lead the way in cutting this number back significantly.  Plastic bags do not biodegrade, and thus are extremely harmful for our environment," said Lauren Bush.  "One small step individual citizens can take to cut back on our dependency on plastic bags is to remember to bring reusable bags to the store.  Collective action on this issue will lead to a big change, and this bill is something we should all get behind."
"Plastic bags create an environmental dilemma that we cannot ignore," said Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. "We salute Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Serrano and Assembly Member Kellner for taking a practical approach that will help reduce plastics in the city's waste stream, reduce litter and educate consumers about the environmental consequences of plastic bags."
"Discarded plastic bags represent a first-class environmental nuisance in New York City," said Eric A. Goldstein, New York Urban Program Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They blow down our streets, flutter along our parks and beaches, clog our storm water drains and endanger marine life.  The Mayor's proposed legislation, which encourages New Yorkers to turn to reusable bags, offers a sensible solution to a pesky problem."
"This legislation represents the recognition of our City's need to approach solid waste issues in an environmentally sensitive and financially sound manner," said Harry Nespoli, President of the Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association.
"Plastic bags, dropped on the streets of New York, wind up in Jamaica Bay, where they litter beaches and degrade habitat for hundreds of thousands of shorebirds that have depended on these beaches for nearly 10,000 years," said Glenn Phillips, Executive Director, NYC Audubon Society. "NYC Audubon applauds Assembly Member Kellner, State Senator Serrano, and Mayor Bloomberg for this new initiative to reduce consumption and protect the environment for all New Yorkers."