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Report: 8 ways to handle plastic bag waste in NYS

Posted at 11:09 AM, Jan 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-16 17:44:39-05

New York's Plastic Bag Task Force has issued a report outlining potential solutions to address plastic bag waste in the state. 

According the report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 80% of plastic pollution in the ocean originates as land-based trash, which includes plastic bags. 

The task force identified these major issues caused by plastic bag waste:

  • Derived from fossil fuels, a nonrenewable energy source
  • A source of litter on land and in waterways
  • A source of avoidable excess packaging waste used for mere minutes
  • Harmful to marine habitats and wildfire
  • Problematic, creating tangles and jams in recycling and waste water processing equipment
  • Costly for municipalities and recycling centers in terms of time and money to manage 

According to the report, New York residents use 23 billion plastic bags annually and a "significant number of these bags make their way into the environment causing litter and damaging the wildlife."

What's been done so far to reduce plastic bags? On a statewide, national, and international level, legislators have implemented plastic bag bans, plastic bag and paper bag bans, and plastic bag bans with fee on paper bags.

In August 2017, the Department of Environmental Conservation conducted a survey of all 13 municipalities in NYS with plastic bag laws. Their research found:

  • Ban legislation has been most frequently used because it is seen as the easiest to implement.
  • Reusable bags were used more frequently after the legislation was in place. 
  • Bans generally have support of consumers after an adjustment period, while retailers have mixed reactions. 
  • The main concern of retailers is the existing supply of bags -- and they need time (normally 4-6 months) to clear them out.

Here are the eight options the task force listed to combat plastic bag waste:

  1. Strengthen and Enforce Existing New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act - Continue implementation of the existing New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act while increasing education, enforcement and reporting requirements.
  2. Manufacturer Responsibility for Recycling of Single-Use Plastic Bags - Require manufacturers to fund and implement a program for the collection and recycling of single-use plastic bags.
  3. Fee on Single-Use Plastic Bags - Institute a fee on single-use plastic bags.
  4. Fee per Transaction for Single-Use Bags - Under this option, rather than a fee per bag, a single fee would be imposed for the use of single-use bags (i.e., a fee would be assessed whether a consumer received one bag or 10 bags).
  5. Fee on Single-Use Plastic and Paper Bags
  6. Ban Single-Use Plastic Bags - Implement a ban on the sale and use of single-use plastic bags.
  7. Hybrid - Implement a ban on plastic bags with a fee on the allowable alternatives.
  8. Continue Existing Policies - Continue implementation of the existing New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act.

View the full report here