March 1: New York State Joins the Plastic Bag Ban

Posted on February 24, 2020 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

By Alice Garbarini Hurley & John-Mark de Palma 

Starting Sunday, March 1, 2020, single-use plastic bags, with limited exceptions, will be banned in New York State. Businesses in the Big Apple and some counties will charge a five-cent tax for each paper bag requested. (2-cents going to local governments and 3-cents to the state's Environmental Protection Fund.) Residents with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits are exempt from paying paper bag fees.

Each year, 23 billion single-use plastic bags are used. New York City residents alone discard over 10 billion single-use plastic bags annually, which amounts to more than $12 million in annual disposal costs, according to the New York City Department of Sanitation.  “Plastic bags are used on average just 12 minutes before being trashed, yet last hundreds or thousands of years in a landfill,” says Julie Raskin, executive director of the Foundation for New York’s Strongest, told New York’s PBS Thirteen in a recent interview.


To help residents, the New York City Department of Sanitation is giving away foldable, reusable totes made of 90 percent recycled material. Take the Zero Waste Pledge to get one free or find a reusable bag distribution event in your neighborhood.

Fast facts to know about the NY law:

  • Stores can still provide plastic bags to wrap purchases including prepared food, raw meat, fish, seafood, poultry, flowers, or items from bulk containers, such as fruits, vegetables, grains or candy.
  • Dry cleaner bags and newspaper-delivery bags are allowed.
  • Boxes of plastic bags will still be sold.
  • Restaurants and taverns can provide plastic bags to carry out or deliver food.
  • Pharmacies can offer bags to carry prescription drugs.
  • Retail stores must continue to collect plastic bags from consumers for recycling.


The United States uses over 12 million barrels of oil to create plastic bags and plastic wrap each year. Worldwide, between 1-5 trillion plastic bags are used. They clogging waterways, littering landscapes and killing wildlife, and pollute our oceans. But ironically, experts say, banning them may hurt rather than help the environment.  According to an NPR report, about 30 percent of the plastic eliminated by the ban will come back in the form of thicker plastic bags that consumers will buy since they no longer have free bags to line trash cans or hold dog waste. 

Even reusable totes are controversial. NPR cites a 2011 study by the U.K. government “that found a person would have to reuse a cotton tote bag 131 times before it was better for climate change than using a plastic grocery bag once.”

The report further noted that a Danish study evaluating environmental impact beyond greenhouse gas emissions--including damage to ecosystems and air pollution—found that cloth bags were even worse.  “They estimate you would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 times more than a plastic grocery bag to make using it better for the environment,” NPR reported.

On the upside, while paper bags use, well –paper – the environmental impact is less than their plastic counterparts. Terry Webber, executive director of the American Forest & Paper Association, told ABC News that paper is a renewable, recyclable and compostable resource that is made with wood fiber from sustainably managed forests. According to ABC News, “Webber claims two-thirds of the energy used to make paper comes from renewable biomass (residuals such as tree limbs and bark that are used as a renewable energy source to power paper mills). 90% of water used during manufacturing also returns to waterways.”


While the single-use plastic bag ban has been slowly approaching for a year, we can always take steps – big and little -- to be a little more green-minded. So you don’t get stuck with a nickel here and a nickel there in bag fees, keep folded resuable totes in your commuting bag, purse or car. This is also a great opportunity to switch to biodegradable dog and cat waste bags.

To help explain the importance of recycling to the children who will inherit our planet, check this “Sesame Street” video clip, “Murray Visits a Recycling Center.”

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