Charging for Plastic

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:00

Downtowners debate proposed 10-cent fee for plastic bags

New Yorkers throw out 100,000 tons of plastic bags a year -- taking up to 1,000 years to fully biodegrade.

Now, City Council members Brad Lander (D ? Brooklyn) and Margaret Chin (D ? Lower Manhattan) have introduced legislation that ? if passed ? would mandate 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. "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 are ? predictably ? split.

"I think everyone on the planet earth should plan to carry a bag with them. How obvious is this?" Richard Cullen, the owner of Archangel Antiques at 334 East 9th Street, said. "If someone's cheap and they can't afford the ten cents? fine, I'll pay the price for the customer. But people don't do enough to protect the planet."

For some New Yorkers, it's not just a question of frugality. Michael Cummings works handing out fliers for Addiction NYC, a tattoo and piercing shop on St. Marks Place, but makes less than $10,000 per year.

"It all adds up," Cummings says, referring to the costs of the city. "If I go shopping, that's fifty cents [in bags]." Over the course of a year, he calculates that he could end up losing five dollars to the plastic bag charge.

"Five dollars is a difference. It's a pack of rolling tobacco; it's a new pair of socks," Cummings says. Still, he concedes "in the long run, I can find ten cents on the ground? I don't like spending extra money, but there is definitely too much garbage."

For cash-strapped New Yorkers like Cummings, the new bill requires that stores waive the charge when customers are using food stamps to make their purchases. Food pantries, likewise, will be exempt.

But Peter Sokolik, a tech consultant, rejects the idea of the new price on sheer principal.

"What's next, an extra charge for using cash?" Sokolik asks. "They're trying to regulate things entirely too much."

Ben Follensbee, an employee at the Eco-general store Sustainable NYC at 139 Avenue A and East 9th Street, thinks the burden should fall on stores, not on customers.

"What about making the bags out of biodegradable plastics?" Follensbee asks. Sustainable NYC usese biodegradable bags, and Follensbee thinks more stores should follow suit. "Bags are a convenience that people have come to expect. This should be the business's issue, not the consumer's."

Still, Follensbee thinks the legislation is a step in the right directon.

"Environmentalism, ultimately? it's something we all have to do together. And if we have to force some people into that? I'm OK with that."