New York City Approves Plastic Bag Tax — City Angers Shoppers With 5-Cent Surcharge On Disposable Bags In Retail Outlets

New York City has approved a plastic bag tax that will be levied on disposable grocery bags. The surcharge has angered many shoppers as well as legislators, who claim the five-cent surcharge will burden struggling families. However, environmentalists have applauded the decision, claiming the fee will help the environment.

New York City lawmakers voted in favor of levying a surcharge on each carryout bag that the customer demands. Each bag will cost a nickel. The retailers will soon be asked to collect the fee from each of its customers, and failing to do so will invite a penalty.

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Come October, New Yorkers will have to pay five cents for every carryout bag they request at the checkout counter. The City Council voted Thursday to impose the fee that’s bound to anger quite a few citizens on the presumably needless burden, reported the New York Post. The bill, dubbed the “bag bill,” was passed with 28-20 vote after a strong debate that clearly divided the council. While the supporters of the bill insist that levying a surcharge will help the environment, the bill’s opponents claimed the tax is an unfair burden on families who are already reeling under high prices and inflation. Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the measure.

The bill initially suggested a surcharge of 10 cents but had to cut the price in half to garner more support. Interestingly, the tax collected for the disposable bags won’t go into the city’s coffers. The bill allows stores to keep the money they earn through the surcharge. Moreover, five cents is the minimum surcharge that the stores will have to charge. The retailers are free to charge even more.

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Proponents of the surcharge insist it will reduce the rampant abuse of disposable bags that pollute the planet.

Speaking about the bill, Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), who also happens to be one of the chief sponsors, said, “We all know plastic bags are a problem. We see them in our trees, our streets, our parks, our beaches. They clog up our storm drains. It’s no secret this bill has opponents – and how could it not? It works by irritating us into changing our behavior and remembering to bring reusable bags.”

She was referring not just to the use of plastic bags, but the rampant abuse many customers are guilty of. Citing various concerns, these bags are often doubled-up. Since these are easily torn, many plastic bags are discarded after a single use. Many environmentalists pointed out that these bags are simply loved by dog owners who are merely aggravating the problem.

Are disposable carryout bags really a problem? Primarily, the surcharge will be levied on all types of carryout bags irrespective of material. In other words, besides plastic bags, even paper bags will be charged five cents. A store found violating the bill by forgoing the surcharge will face fines of $250 to $500.

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New Yorkers use a whopping 9.37 billion disposable bags each year, reported the New York Daily News. These bags alone cost the city $12.5 million. The city has to spend considerable resources to haul about 91,000 tons of bags to landfill annually. A small number of plastic bags are recycled while the rest continue to pile up.

Supporters of the bill expect the surcharge will drastically cut down the demand for plastic bags by customers. To date, these bags had been free, and customers didn’t worry about asking for more. However, it’s not the amount that will dissuade them, added Lander.

“The fee is irritating, which is precisely why it works. We don’t want to pay it so we’ll bring bags instead. So the fact that it’s irritating irritates a lot of people.”

The bill could cut down the demand for the plastic bags by 60 to 90 percent. To those who opposed the bill stating that the citizens will be burdened, the supporters had a simple answer. Simply decline a bag and get one every time you go grocery shopping.

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A surcharge for disposable carryout bag isn’t a new concept. New York City is merely following in the footsteps of California and Washington, D.C., reported CNBC.

[Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]