Single-use plastic bags will be banned in New York State as of March 2020 under a deal reached as part of the state’s $175.5 billion budget.

The announcement from legislative leaders on the 2019-20 spending plan came in the early hours of March 31. The deal was struck between Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Senate and Assembly majority leaders.

The legislation, part of the Transportation, Economic Development and Environmental Conservation budget bill, passed in the Assembly 100 to 42, and Senate 39 to 22, according to unofficial vote tallies. It will now go to Cuomo for approval.

New York is the second state, after California, to ban single-use plastic bags.

The ban includes bags provided at the checkout of grocery stores, convenience stores, retailers, and superstores such as Walmart. It does not affect bags used for restaurant carryout orders, those used to package things like raw meat or produce, or provided by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs.

Under the legislation, counties and cities can opt to place a 5-cent fee on paper bags, 3 cents of which will go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and 2 cents will stay in the locality to fund a reusable distribution bag program for low and fixed-income consumers. If a locality does not run a program, that money will go to the state to fund a reusable bag program in that area. Smaller local government entities such as towns and villages can make the decision to opt in, and the retailer will keep the fee revenue.

The fee will not apply to customers using supplemental nutrition assistance programs.

Reusable Bags to Become ‘Commonplace’

“When we look back a few years from now, it’s just going to be commonplace for people to have reusable bags with them,” Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, said in an interview.

While environmental groups applauded the move, it elicited concerns from the business community.

For Avi Kaner, co-owner of Morton Williams supermarkets, the ban will mean spending more on bags, with paper bags costing about 10.5 cents and plastic about 2.5 cents, he said.

“It’s a substantially higher cost to the retailer as supermarkets are closing right and left in New York City,” Kaner said. “This puts yet a further strain on supermarket economics in the city.”

The family-owned chain has 15 supermarkets located primarily in Manhattan, and one in New Jersey. Additional regulations and expenses for supermarkets have placed added pressure on the industry, Kaner said, adding that Morton Williams plans to close its store in the Bronx next month because it can’t keep up with rising costs.

Kaner said the fee should go to the retailer to make up for the added costs.

‘Good Start’

Darren Suarez, senior director of government affairs for the Business Council of New York State, said his group would have preferred a phase-in to allow for consumers to adjust to the change.

“Overall we’re interested in seeing growth in legislation that encourages more individual stewardship, so that there is not continued growth in this space or another space on solid waste, that replaces individual behavior with state action,” Suarez said.

The New York City Council had passed legislation in 2016 to impose a fee of 5 cents per bag, however it was blocked by the state Legislature and governor, who then put in place a task force to look into options for a statewide plan.

Environmental groups said the legislation should have required a statewide fee on paper bags, as California did.

“It’s a little at risk how effective this is going to be statewide, because counties are going to have to opt into the fee,” said Liz Moran, New York Public Interest Research Group policy director. “At the end of the day what pays the price is the environment. Paper bags are very water intensive, they’re carbon intensive and so consequently we have a lot of similar concerns to plastic bags with paper. Banning the plastic bags is a good start, but we’re worried the state will have to come back to the drawing board on the 5-cent fee.”

The budget also did not include legislation expanding the 5-cent fee on bottles to include noncarbonated, nonalcoholic beverages such as juices, sports drinks, cider, tea, and coffee.

One version of the expansion of the Returnable Container Act, commonly referred to as the Bottle Bill, would also place a fee on wine, hard cider, and liquor bottles, among other changes. Lawmakers have indicated they wanted to discuss the legislation outside of the budget.