The ban goes into effect March 1
ALBANY – By this point, you've probably heard: New York is banning plastic bags come March 1.
The days of loading up your groceries in bags made of plastic film will soon be over in the Empire State, the result of a law passed last year in hopes of cutting down on plastic pollution.
The ban applies to any store or sellers that collects tax, preventing them from handing out thin plastic carryout bags to customers for the purpose of holding purchased goods.
But not all plastic bags will be banned. The law makes a number of exceptions that will allow some thin film bags to remain in use for specific purposes at stores statewide.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation finalized its bag-ban regulations Monday, giving greater clarity as to which bags will and will not be allowed once the ban takes effect March 1.
Here's a look at which bags will still be allowed:
The entire point of the ban is to encourage people to use reusable bags, a move the state hopes will cut down on single-use plastic that often litters streets, trees and bodies of water.
Reusable bags will still be allowed, even if they're made of plastic.
What determines if a bag is reusable?
According to the DEC's regulations, a reusable bag has to be made of either cloth (or any machine-washable fabric) or a thicker plastic that can be washed. It also has to have at least one strap or handle, a minimum lifespan of at least 125 uses and the ability to carry at least 22 pounds for at least 175 feet.
Also, a store can't stop you from bringing in and using single-use plastic bags you acquired before the ban takes effect. That's laid out in the rules, too.
Grocery stores and retailers will still be able to hand out paper bags, though it may come with a 5 cent fee.
State law allows counties and cities to decide whether to charge the paper-bag fee, a portion of which would go toward local programs to provide reusable bags to residents.
As of earlier this month, New York City and three counties — Albany, Tompkins and Suffolk — had elected to charge the fee. Several major grocery chains, however, have also announced plans to charge a 5 cent fee on their own, including Wegmans and Price Chopper.
The American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, which represents plastic bag manufacturers, warns the plastic ban could lead to a paper-bag shortage, particularly as China deals with the effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
“The state has refused to heed the concerns of retailers and shoppers who say there’s been insufficient outreach to explain the ban and also are worried about a looming paper bag shortage and questionable availability of reusable bags from China due to supply chain disruptions," said Matt Seaholm, the alliance's executive director.
Bags for fish, meat, etc.
Stores will still be able to package your meat, fish and poultry in thin plastic bags.
According to the DEC regulations, the bag ban won't apply to any bags used to contain or wrap uncooked meat, fish, seafood, poultry, unwrapped or non-prepackaged food, flowers or plants.
Plastic bags can be used for other items, too, if they're necessary to be kept separate for purposes of avoiding contamination or moisture damage, or for sanitary purposes.
The exception applies for deli meats, too. Stores can still use plastic for "food sliced or prepared to order."
Bags for bulk products
Buy products in bulk? You'll still be able to use plastic bags.
The ban won't apply to bags used to package bulk fruits, vegetables, grains, candy and small hardware items like nuts and bolts.
Transporting live creatures
Pet stores and retailers will be allowed to use plastic bags for live insects, fish, crustaceans, mollusks or "other aquatic items requiring a waterproof bag," according to the DEC rules.
Don't worry: Your newspaper will still be protected by the elements.
Newspaper carriers will still be allowed to put the daily paper in plastic before putting it on your porch or in your driveway, according to the state law.
This one may be particularly helpful to dog owners who have come to rely on shopping bags to pick up their pet's waste.
The ban makes an exception for bags that are prepackaged and sold in bulk. So, for example, a store could still sell a pack of 100 thin plastic bags meant for dog waste.
This one's pretty self-explanatory. Trash bags will still be allowed, per DEC rules.
Food storage bags
The ban exempts bags that are meant for food storage, particularly those manufactured in "snack, sandwich, quart, and gallon sizes."
That means you'll still be able to buy Ziploc and other similar bags.
Those long, plastic garment bags that cover your clothes when you pick them up from the dry cleaners?
Those are still OK.
The DEC rules exempt "over-the-hanger bags or those used by a dry cleaner or laundry service."
Restaurant carryout bags
Restaurants and taverns won't be affected by the state's bag ban.
State law and DEC rules specifically exempt them from the ban, allowing any "restaurant, tavern or similar food service establishment" to hand out bags to "carry out or deliver prepared food."
Thick plastic bags
The ban applies to carryout bags made out of plastic film, which the DEC regulations define as less than 10 mils — 1/100th of an inch — thick. So theoretically, bags that are greater than 10 mils thick would still be allowed.
That exception has angered environmental groups, who say it has the ability to undermine the entire purpose of the bag ban by potentially allowing more plastic in the waste stream.
"It’s a shame they decided on this course of action," said Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York and a former acting DEC commissioner.
The DEC countered by saying the 10 mil limit is important to ensure the agency can determine what is and isn't a reusable bag.
The agency also contends industry machinery doesn't exist to easily produce 10 mil bags. And the cost of plastic that thick is expensive, so stores wouldn't be able to give the bags away for free.