Charging for Plastic

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:00

    Upper West Siders debate proposal for a 10-cent charge on bags

    Every year, New Yorkers throw away 100,000 tons of plastic bags -- a haul that can take up to 1,000 years to full biodegrade.

    Now, City Council members Brad Lander (D ? Brooklyn) and Margaret Chin (D ? Lower Manhattan) have introduced legislation that ? if passed ? would require that stores charge a ten-cent minimum on all plastic bags consumers buy. That charge would not be a tax but a pure disincentive, and would go back to stores to cover the cost of the bag.

    "This legislation represents a real, progressive step toward an environmentally conscious New York City," Chin said in a press release. "This bill incentivizes consumers to bring their own reusable bags and think twice before reaching for paper or plastic ones."

    But in a city as diverse as New York, opinions about the mandate are ? predictably ? split.

    "It's just like the (ban on) sugary drinks," Aaron, a manager at the grocery store Seasons on Amsterdam and West 91st, says. "They're forcing people to go green. And it's not going to save the environment, anyway."

    At D'Agustino's on Colombus Avenue and West 91st Street, manager Millie Lugo takes the opposite position, asserting that the new bag fee would make consumers think twice about how they transport their goods.

    "I think people abuse them," Lugo told the West Side Spirit. "You don't need a bag for a loaf of bread." Lugo notes that the store has recycling available, but thinks that the city as a whole could "do better on our packaging".

    Upper West Side resident Kamar Magar believes that a ten cent fee would help reduce waste, but worries about it might give stores an extra way to charge people, rather than encourage recycling and better practices.

    "Some stores have policies, that you can't bring in bags from outside," Magar says, stating that ? for logistical security reasons ? shoplifting is harder for stores to detect when they can't identify which bags are theirs and which are from outside.

    Yuhuda Berger ? a longtime resident of the neighborhood ? thinks the benefits of the extra charge far outweigh those types of concerns.

    "I'm very much in favor," Berger says. "I'm very concerned about the plastic in the Pacific Ocean. We are desecrating the earth." Berger is certain that his plastic consumption will go down when he treats the bag as a product in and of itself, and mentions that at Whole Foods, a rebate for reusing bags has pushed him to be more green.

    But for others, the price of the push is worth debating.

    "Ten cents sounds a little excessive," Toronto native Eitan Finkelstein tells the paper. "We have the same thing in Toronto, but it's only five cents." Still Finkelstein concedes that the five-cent charge, ultimately, isn't enough to get him to remember his own bags from home. And while he still may not remember to reuse bags for ten cents, he'd start seriously considering it if they charged a quarter.

    "The price definitely makes a difference," Finkelstein says.

    The price makes a difference for the city as well. Currently, the city spends an estimated $10 million dollars a year sending its plastic bags to its landfills. As for the more cash-strapped New Yorkers who are struggling to just keep their heads economically above water, the new bill requires that stores waive the charge when customers are using food stamps to make purchases. Food pantries, likewise, will be exempt.