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Loophole In NY Plastic Bag Ban Could Let Stores Hand Out Thicker Plastic Bags

environment

New York's upcoming plastic bag ban has a loophole that environmental advocates say would be a "monumental mistake" in the effort to reduce plastic bag pollution.

The Cuomo administration's ban, which is beginning March 1st, would no longer allow single-use plastic bags to be provided to customers at many stores—apart from a list of exempt bags such as carryout or dry cleaner bags. But among those exemptions include thicker plastic bags that the Department of Environmental Conservation considers "washable" or "reusable," according to its proposed rules.

"The goal of the law is to ban all plastic carryout bags," the environmental groups wrote to the DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos on Friday. "However, [the DEC's] proposed regulations allow for certain types of plastic carryout bags to be used, as well as provide thickness criteria, both of which were not included in the state law."

Retail outlets would be permitted to give out free plastic bags 10 mils or thicker under the DEC's proposed rules, which consider them "reusable." (A mil is a measurement used to describe plastic bag thickness; one mil is a thousandth of an inch.)

"Most consumers will not use these thicker plastic bags as reusable bags - the thicker bags will simply end up in all the same problematic places as their thinner counterparts," the groups' letter reads.

The reignited criticism of the plastic bag can comes weeks before the ban is set to go into effect on March 1st, nearly one year after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation for the ban. New York City had previously set a 5-cent tax on plastic and paper bags back in 2016 that Cuomo later thwarted with state legislation. Environmental groups have previously said Cuomo's ban doesn't go far enough, in part because it doesn't include fees on paper bags.

"This New York State plastic bag ban is an excellent legislative accomplishment that we don't want to see watered down by the Department of Environmental Conservation regulations," Judith Enck, an Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the founder of Beyond Plastics, said at a press conference in Albany on Friday afternoon.

New Yorkers use about 23 billion plastic bags a year, the coalition of environmental groups said in a press release. Although most grocery stores are required to offer recycling drop-off bins for plastic bags, the vast majority of bags end up in landfills, burned in incinerators, or carried on winds into waterways and the oceans.

The ban was the "right thing" for the state to do, Enck said, but not including thicker plastic bags in the ban would be a "monumental mistake."

The environmental groups—including Enck's Beyond Plastics, New York Public Interest Research Group, Environmental Advocates of New York—also want language allowing for "case-by-case" basis compliance for certain stores to be removed. The groups say the rules should also be clarified to ensure the bag ban includes gas stations and bodegas, another possible loophole because those establishments often provide carry out food, an exception for the plastic bag ban.

"If we do not take comprehensive action to reduce the use of plastic packaging such as single-use bags, the amount of plastic waste entering the oceans will double between 2015 and 2025," the groups said.

"New York made the right move to fight climate change and protect the environment by banning plastic bags," Liz Moran, New York Public Interest Research Group's environmental policy director, said in a statement. At the press conference, she said 99 percent of plastics are sourced from fossil fuels. "Plastic bags are plastic bags—to maintain New York's status as a climate champion, DEC must ensure regulations follow the intent of the law and won't allow the distribution of plastic bags, regardless of thickness, starting March 1st."

In response to a request for comment, the DEC said in a statement that the state "remains steadfastly committed" to implementing the law and "ending the scourge of single use plastic bans."

The DEC's thickness standard aims to reduce "film plastic," and ensure that the thin plastic bags are not considered reusable, according to the department. The department says that 10 mil bags would be too expensive to produce for stores to give them out for free and this type of bag is not currently produced. At Friday's press conference, Enck suggested the loophole leaves the door open for the industry to start producing them.

"Any insinuation that through these regulations the state is attempting to undermine the integrity of the law banning plastic bags is patently false," the DEC said in a statement. "Those who attack the proposed regulations to implement New York’s plastic bag ban today misunderstand the state’s strict criteria for reusable bags, including proposed standards for thickness, strength, and durability."

Despite what the DEC described as an "attack" on the proposed regulations, the department is taking public comments on the drafted rules until Monday.

The Governor's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated with comments from the Department of Environmental Conservation.

 

This article was originally published on gothamist.com

 

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