A Potential Price for Bags at Retail Stores

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Consumers may be charged 10 cents per plastic or paper bag whenever they go to a retail or grocery store if a new City Council bill passes. The bill is intended to encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags.

The fee isn't a tax — it only requires approval from the City Council, not the state legislature. It would benefit store owners, who receive the money.

New York City annually sends some 100,000 tons of plastic bags to landfills at a cost of $10 million. Margaret Chin, council member and a co-sponsor of the bill, said, "New York City has always been a leader in environmental protection, and there is no reason we should be left behind."

Unlike other cities, however, New York will not ban bags completely. And it has been slower than other municipalities to adopt strategies reducing the number of bags given to consumers.  At a rally at City Hall, council member Brad Lander explained that this is partly due to "the uniqueness of New York City. There is that time when you're not intending to go to the grocery store, so you don't bring your bag with you."

Some council members have raised concerns that the bill would be an unfair burden on poorer residents, though customers using food stamps would be exempted from paying for bags.

Similar measures are in place in Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington and other cities.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was reviewing the bill, but has not yet endorsed the measure. A vote is expected in the next few weeks. A similar bill failed to pass last year under the Bloomberg administration. 


With reports from the Associated Press


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Comments [16]

I think this is a terrible idea.

1. What are we supposed to use for garbage?

2. What are we supposed to use for used cat litter?

3. As Amy from Manhattan noted above, a plastic bag folds flat enough to be carried around until needed to carry the next batch of groceries.

4. The ones with the purple flowers that independent stores use are better for storing produce than anything I've ever used--talk about cutting down on the garbage stream.

5. Whatever happened to taking them back to the store for recycling?

May. 29 2014 04:00 PM
Alexandra from Brooklyn, NY

There are many organizations, highly informed and motivated to understand the culture of consumption and all of its ramifications. We found this short video that presents an interesting alternative to continuing along the same path that clearly is damaging to both people and our environment. For those who have not done any research, this video might be an eye-opener.

Many WNYC listeners question this idea of a negligible fee on a plastic bag that has proven to be costly to both the taxpayer and the environment. It seems absurd that there is such resistance to simply paying for the damage being done. It is not a ban proposed, though many sophisticated, major cities in the United States have approved such a measure. Please support this small step towards responsibility.

Mar. 30 2014 09:44 PM
Jessie Henshaw from Way Uptown

So, good ideas on plastic here, but... we're not "doing the math". My somewhat radical systems science research on the subject seems to be holding up very well, getting some traction professionally.

"The math" is partly that the real environmental difference in impacts betwee using cloth v. plastic bags **depends more on the price than the materials**. That's because the main impact of EVERYTHING is the consumption of the people you pay for them. So, if you put symbolism aside, it would take reusing the cloth bag a couple hundred times at least... to be lower impact than the plastic. I also find carrying a bunch of cloth bags around costly, and actually find it easier and cheaper to carry a few used plastic bags back to the market.

The whole implication, though, is actually much bigger than that. It's that your personal impacts on the environment depend MUCH more on **how you change the world than on what you buy**! It doesn't really matter so much what you buy as what you do with it. You'll spend or save your whole income anyway, both going to other people who will spend or save it in the average way anyway, and so always tending to have the *normal* impact on the environment as one share of the whole economy's total. How we got to think the opposite is apparently a story of urban myth making instead of real understanding of our impacts.

So, symbolism aside again, even the fact that **what you put in the plastic bag** will generally have thousands of times more real impact than the bag itself, what matters much more is what you learn about how your world works and how you communicate it...! Who would'a guessed?? ;-)

Mar. 29 2014 10:41 AM
Amy from Manhattan

Nobody has to buy a cloth reusable bag. Plastic bags can be used multiple times, & they fold up thinner to take up less space than the ones you buy. You can keep 1 in every backpack, shoulder bag, or whatever else you use to carry your stuff around & never be caught without one. I reuse plastic bags till they're ready to fall apart & then take them to a supermarket to be recycled. It seems as if hardly anyone knows that you can recycle these bags at stores & that you can't recycle them w/regular building recycling. I actually pull them out of the recycling bins in my building (if they're clean), use a few for shopping, & take the rest to the store's (separate) plastic bag recycling bin. I'll keep doing this, w/no need to pay 10 cents, until so many other people dispose of their plastic bags properly that I can't find used ones--& the sooner the better!

Mar. 28 2014 01:27 AM
oinonio from NYC

I wonder if a ten cent fee is high enough? We could follow Berlin's lead: eliminate the plastic bag and charge about a Euro for a cotton bag which has about a year's lifespan with continuous use. (I think the store Muji sells similar bags).

Mar. 28 2014 12:19 AM

The reason I ask for a bag is to make it obvious to security that I didn't steal the thing I'm walking out with. If I just take the thing and put it in my pocket what's to say some security guard isn't going to hassle me? Yeah, as long as you have the receipt you can make an exit but how long until they charge you for your receipt too? Just a way to nickel and dime people. Just imagine the millions of dollars these stores will make charging tourists an extra ten cents on every sale? But if you add a ten cent tax to high speed stock trades the whole world will come to and end right. As usual people are happy to be shafted, what can you do.

Mar. 27 2014 10:07 PM

its too hopeful to assume that folks will re-use plastic bags, even if they have to pay for them. they need to be banned altogether.

Mar. 27 2014 11:45 AM
Mike Rahimi from Mamaroneck, NY

Rather than charging for plastic bags, which just makes shopping more expensive, why not do what the A&P near us in Mamaroneck did last year? they just stopped providing plastic and paper bags. They gave us plenty of notice, and then just stopped having bags, we learned very quickly.

Mar. 27 2014 09:50 AM

"Once your purchases are complete, you are required to eat them prior to leaving supermarket."

Mar. 27 2014 09:31 AM
Mary from UWS

I am all for this. But even if this doesn't pass, we need to change the general mindset - especially of the cashiers. I will tell them I have my own bag. I will show them I have my own bag. I will tell them I don't need a bag for that one tin of mints I just bought - but they still automatically throw my purchase into their plastic bags - often double bagging it automatically. And when I tell them I don't want it - they often take those plastic bag and throw them out because they are no longer on the bag dispenser.
And even though I go out of my way to bring my own bags, I do occasionally forget or not have enough. I reuse those plastic bags for garbage and other stuff as much as I can, but still end up with more than I can possibly use for garbage.
We are a nation of excess and waste and it needs to change.

Mar. 27 2014 09:17 AM
John from West of NY

Recycling bags is not the answer. They are not recycled back into bags so it is not true recycling. Is only encourages more to be made. At 100 billion in the US alone, each year, we need deterrents.

Mar. 27 2014 09:15 AM
Stephanie Zawalski from Upper East Side

My husband and I collected every plastic bag that was given to us last year for a grand total of 832. By changing our habits we are on track to half that number in 2014. If residence and businesses worked together to discourage plastic bag use, NYC could see a huge reduction in waste and litter. The $0.10 charge is a great way to remind people that these bags have a coast and to move that cost directly to those who continue to choose to use them. Meet our Bag Troll and read more about our experience at

Mar. 27 2014 09:02 AM

I am so sick of seeing people load up with 3, 4, 10 plastic bags at the grocery - when asked why they don't use reusable bags, the response is a feeble "Oh ... I always forget" or "I'm in such a rush, I don't have time". Others have reported the plastic bags fouling the New York and New Jersey environment - in the deserts of the Middle East and West Africa, there is a plastic bag every 2 feet. Enforcing the use of recyclable bags, so that the wimps have no choice but to do the right thing, is a great idea - so yes, after a couple of months of giveaways of recyclable bags (I have a large collection - I will donate some!) charge 25 cents for every plastic bag and give 5 cents for using your own bag - but cycle out the reward too. The reward is shifting resources to a more productive stream.

Mar. 27 2014 09:00 AM
Amy Sacchetti from Manhattan

I recycle the plastic bags as garbage bags and I am sure to do more online shopping if I am forced to pay a fee or remember my own bag. Groceries in Manhattan are overpriced as it is.

Mar. 27 2014 08:57 AM
Margaret from Brooklyn

More information needs to be shared about the life-cycle of a plastic bag.

It is a rare bag that is re-used for collecting garbage in people's homes.
The vast majority end up with adverse impacts to local economy, local environment, and local health.
Please post the details of the bill.
New York City is far behind in comparison to other major cities that have made great strides by per-bag charges and bans on bags, in Washington D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

Here are details on the basis of the bill & the proposal.

Mar. 27 2014 08:57 AM
Sari from Upper West Side

Like many New Yorkers, I recycle my plastic grocery bags as garbage bags -- they are the perfect size for a small, under the sink basket.

I doubt how much will be gained by discouraging people from using plastic shopping bags, rather than encouraging people to use them instead of less environmentally friendly, heavy duty garbage bags available for sale in the stores.

Mar. 27 2014 07:54 AM

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