The Return of the Bag Tax
June 3rd, 2011
Zachary Bergson filed this post.
The controversial plastic bag tax is back as some lawmakers and environmental groups are questioning the effectiveness of a state-recycling program intended to reduce plastic bag waste.
Plastic bags have been littering New York and other major cities for years. In response, cities like San Francisco and Washington D.C. instituted bans and taxes on plastic bags at large retailers. Some New Yorkers think this city should take similar action to reduce plastic bag waste, protect the environment and generate revenue.
The idea is not new. In 2008, Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed for a six-cent tax on plastic bags, and a year later floated the idea of a five-cent fee. He backed down in the face of strong opposition from the City Council.
Previously, though, the council had passed a bill requiring large supermarkets and retailers to provide their customers with plastic bag recycling sites in their stores. A similar New York State law superseded the city law in early 2009.
Santina Stankevich, a ShopRite Supermarket representative, said customers of the store, which has numerous locations around New York, recycled over 579 tons of plastic bags in 2010 at its state required recycling centers. After the bags are collected, she said, ShopRite gives them to a recycling company called GP Harmon Recycling, which process the bags into plastic pellets it sells to manufacturers.
In February, Manhattan state Assemblymember Micah Kellner proposed a 25-cent tax on every plastic bag used in cities with a population of one million or more. To go into effect in the five boroughs, the bill would need to be passed by the legislature and approved by the City Council in a home rule message.
Kellner said the proposed tax would be far more effective in reducing plastic bag waste in the city than the state-recycling program.
“We’ve seen estimates that only 1 percent to 4 percent of plastic bags are being recycled, whereas when you put a minimal tax on plastic bags it deters them from taking [plastic bags] to begin with,” he said. That, he said, is imperative because the bags do irreparable harm to our environment.
“People need to recognize that plastic bags, while we use them for just a few moments, remain in our environment for thousands of years and are extremely toxic,” Kellner said.
Kellner added that a tax on plastic bags also could help the city with its current fiscal problems.
“We have a budget deficit in the city right now and the city council is looking for new revenue. … This tax is a viable alternative,” Kellner said.
Environmental groups and green companies are also want to reduce the use of plastic bags in New York. Tim Petrochko, a partner at the company One Bag One Earth, which makes reusable bags, said a statewide ban on free plastic checkout bags would be the most efficient way to reduce plastic bag use.
“If you do want to use one you have to buy it,” he said. “It would be a separate thing that’s not included with your purchase.”
Petrochko added that the state recycling program has had limited success.
“It’s ineffective in the sense that it’s not required and you don’t end up in a situation where people remember to bring their bags to the grocery stores,” he said.By Gail Robinson on June 3, 2011, 10:57 am
In category: Environment, Public Finance | 1 Comment »