Who is standing up against single use plastic bags?

Governor Cuomo announced his plans for banning single-use plastic bags in New York this past January and just recently turned his plans into legislation on Earth Day. The ban will go into effect beginning March 2020. According to the Governor’s press release, it is estimated that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags per year. The ban is set to “help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic bag production and disposal, from petroleum used to produce the bags to emissions from the transportation of bags to landfills.”

While the ban is definitely a step in the right direction, it should be noted that it only affects single-use plastic carryout bags at any point of sale, such as grocery stores, retail stores and restaurants. Garment bags used by dry cleaners, trash bags and bags used to wrap or contain food (such as fruits and deli meats) are not included in the ban. The ban also gives counties and cities the option to charge a five cent fee per bag: three cents will go to the Environmental Protection Fund, while the remaining two cents will be used to fund the local distribution of reusable bags.

The Department of Environmental Conservation will be provided exclusive jurisdiction over all matters related to plastic bags and the ban. Basil Seggos, the DEC Commissioner, has stated that “DEC is proud to be at the forefront of these efforts and will continue to work closely with the Governor, Legislature and the public to develop solutions that benefit our environment and economy.” The DEC will also be working with “stakeholders and community leaders” to ensure that the initiative does not disproportionately affect low to moderate income communities through the transition to reusable bags.

Also leading the environmental efforts in New York City is Mayor Bill DeBlasio, who recently announced a ban of his own: an order requiring city agencies to stop buying plastics such as plates, utensils and straws. The city agencies are also tasked with replacing plastic items with compostable/recyclable materials by the end of this year. The statement issued by the City Hall Press Office states: “New York City purchases 1.1 million pounds of single-use plastic foodware per year… the Executive Order will reduce New York City’s carbon emissions by approx. 500 tons per year, decrease plastic pollution and reduce risks to wildlife. The City estimates this EO will reduce the purchase of single-use plastics by 95%.”

DeBlasio also voiced support for pending legislation by the City Council to reduce single-use plastics in private establishments. In both cases, the Mayor and his administration acknowledge that there are people in the city for whom single-use plastic straws are a necessity. In such special cases, single-use plastic foodware will be made available upon request and used for emergency preparedness and medical uses. “Reducing single-use plastic use… will lessen the City’s reliance on petroleum-based products in a way that takes the needs of all New Yorkers into account” the statement reads.

New York is the third state to ban single-use plastic bags after California and Hawaii. A Forbed article has compiled a list of other cities and states are following suit such as Boston and Chicago banning single-use plastic bags at the city level, with Oklahoma recently announcing its plans to ban single-use plastic bags at the state level. The state of Maine just issued a ban on styrofoam this week, becoming the first state in the US to enact a state-wide ban. Earlier this year, DeBlasio also banned single-use foam products like styrofoam containers and packing peanuts in New York City. On a global level, the European Union is also hoping to ban the majority of single-use plastics by 2021.

The recent trend in banning single-use plastic can be accredited to growing concerns over plastic pollution and climate change as a whole. The National Geographic has talked about the effects of plastic on our planet in a series of infographics. They reported that 40% of plastic produced is for single-use packaging only — it serves a single purpose, then it is discarded. Another statistic shows that 44% of all plastic ever made has been made after the year 2000. In just 19 years, plastic production — and therefore consumption — has spiked. Oils like petroleum are used to manufacture plastic and currently 8 percent of the world’s oil is being used, however that figure is set to rise 20 percent by the year 2050.

Realistically, banning plastic bags will not offset climate change entirely and plastic consumption is just a piece in a larger puzzle. However, any effort that can be made towards a greener, more environmentally friendly planet will serve as a benefit to everyone. Patricia Espinosa — the United Nations’ climate chief — and scientists have warned that if the planet continues or exacerbates its current trajectory, it could lead to ‘catastrophic’ changes in climate. By starting with individual consumers, New York and other cities/states are able to make small but impactful changes in levels of pollution.