NY soon to enforce plastic bag ban
Claims of an industry lawsuit seeking to block the state's bag-ban law were mostly rejected
ALBANY — Say goodbye to most plastic bags. Soon.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation largely won a lawsuit Thursday brought by the plastic bag industry that sought to block a law signed last year that ends the use of plastic bags by grocery stores and other shops.
"The court’s decision is a victory and a vindication of New York State’s efforts to end the scourge of single-use plastic bags and a direct rebuke to the plastic bag manufacturers who tried to stop our law," DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement.
New York's plastic bag ban legally took effect March 1, but the state has yet to enforce it amid the court case and the coronavirus pandemic.
The DEC said Thursday it will provide the necessary 30-day notice to stores and businesses that the state will soon start to enforce the ban.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly in Albany mainly rejected the claims by Poly-Pak Industries, a Long Island-based bag manufacturer, that the law lacked "any sound or rational basis" and conflicts with other state statutes.
He did rule, however, that certain parts of the DEC regulations conflicted with the state law dealing with the types the bags that are allowed.
So the plastic-bag industry said the ruling points to the need for the state Legislature to revisit the law when it returns to session next year. It is not expected to appeal.
“Unfortunately, we are back where we started, and New York’s bag ban is still broken," Zachary Taylor, director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, said in a statement.
"If there is one thing that is very clear from the judge’s ruling it’s that New York has an unworkable plastic bag law and it must be fixed."
Still, environmental groups hailed the ruling, saying New York can finally move forward with a law that has been stalled for months.
“Today's decision is a critical win for the fight against plastic bag pollution in New York," Liz Moran, environmental policy director for the New York Public Interest Research Group, said in a statement.
The state estimates New Yorkers used 23 billion plastic bags annually, and "by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish unless the tide of plastic pollution is halted," Moran said.
The plastic bag company also sought to make the case that the COVID-19 pandemic is another reason to halt the law, but Connolly rejected the argument.
"To the extent petitioners argue that the COVID-19 crisis provides grounds to invalidate the Bag Reduction Act, they have failed to provide legal authority entitling petitioners to such a determination," he wrote.
Amid the virus and concerns that it could potentially being spread by reusable bags, some supermarkets, such as Tops and Price Chopper, resumed the use of plastic bags.
The law allows some plastic bags to still be used when the ban takes effect, such as smaller ones for carrying bulk items like produce, nuts or deli meat, or trash bags and garment bags or those given for carryout orders at restaurants.
Counties and cities can charge 5 cents for the use of paper bags. If they do, they get to keep 2 cents for each bag to put toward a program to distribute reusable bags.
The remaining 3 cents goes to the state's Environmental Protection Fund.
"DEC encourages New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common-sense precautions to keep reusable bags clean," Seggos said.