On Earth Day, Governor Signs Legislation Banning Single-Use Plastic Bags in New York

New Law Will Reduce Litter, Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Protect the Environment for Future Generations

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation on Earth Day that bans the sale of single-use plastic bags in New York starting in March 2020, a significant step to reduce pollution and protect fish and wildlife. “Single-use” plastic bags do not degrade and often wind up as litter on lands and in waters, harming birds or wildlife that ingest the plastic. It is estimated that New Yorkers use 23 billion plastic bags annually, and nationwide studies show that approximately 50 percent of single-use plastic bags end up as litter. In addition to preventing plastic bag litter in our environment, this ban will also 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.

“You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage,” Governor Cuomo said. “Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish. We need to stop using plastic bags, and today we’re putting an end to this blight on our environment.”

“From bold action to address climate change, to historic investments in clean energy, New York has been at the forefront of efforts to preserve and strengthen our environment, and the plastic bag ban is the next step forward,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “Once again New York is demonstrating leadership with a common sense reform to create lasting change and ensure a greener future for our planet.”

DEC will work with stakeholders and community leaders to ensure the roll-out of this initiative does not disproportionately impact low and moderate income and environmental justice communities through the distribution of reusable bags.

In March 2017, Governor Cuomo created the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force, chaired by Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. The task force met several times to develop a uniform, comprehensive and equitable solution to the plastic bag problem. The final report analyzed the impacts of single-use plastic bags and provided several options for legislation that could help develop a statewide solution to the problem.

The legislation signed today bans the provision of single-use, plastic carryout bags at any point of sale, and provides DEC exclusive jurisdiction over all matters related to plastic bags. Under the new law, garment bags, trash bags and any bags used to wrap or contain certain foods, such as fruits and sliced meats are exempt from the ban. Counties or cities will also be permitted to charge a five cent fee for single-use paper bags. Three cents from the fee will go to the Environmental Protection Fund, while the other two cents will go to the locality to pay for distribution of reusable bags.

New York joins California and Hawaii as the only states where single-use plastic bags are banned.

State Parks Acting Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, “Plastic bag pollution creates a blight on New York’s landscape, including our state parks and historic sites. I applaud Governor Cuomo’s bold action to ban single-use plastic bags, which will greatly enhance our work to protect and promote the State’s natural resources.”

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “New York continues to be a national leader on environmental issues, and the plastic bag ban is the latest in a series of important actions Governor Cuomo has initiated to preserve our air, land, and waters, and our future. 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.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “The Senate Majority was outspoken in our support for a ban on single-use plastic bags, and it is fitting that we enact this historic accomplishment on Earth Day. This is one of many important steps New York State is taking to preserve our natural resources and protect our environment. The Senate Majority will continue to champion efforts that make New York a global leader in the fight against climate change.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, “The Assembly Majority is proud to have helped make New York a national leader in tackling plastic pollution. With this legislation, we have taken a stand to protect our waterways and environment so that our most precious natural resources will be preserved for generations to come.”

Senator Todd Kamsinky, Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee said, “Today, New York takes bold action to protect our environment by banning plastic bags in New York State. Together, we are making a decision to stop bags from clogging up our precious waterways, harming wildlife and littering our communities. With the signing of this legislation, we are making a huge stride in environmental stewardship but there is much more work yet to be accomplished to save our planet – and I know we are up to the challenge.

Senator José Serrano, Chair of Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation, said, “More than just an eyesore, plastic bags are a major source of pollution and cause tremendous environmental damage. The 23 billion plastic bags used by New Yorkers each year get stuck in our trees, blow along our beaches and parks, and endanger our marine and wildlife. For the last decade, I have been working with my colleagues to reduce or eliminate plastic bag use in New York and I am thrilled to see the enactment of this statewide ban, making New York one of the leading states to tackle this important issue. Many thanks to Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation for their commitment to New York’s environmental future.”

Assembly Member Steve Englebright, Chair of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee said, “Plastic bags impose a very high cost on the environment. The bags pollute and litter our landscapes, waterways, and oceans. According to the World Economic Forum, ‘without significant action, there may be more plastic than fish in the ocean, by weight, by 2050.’ Plastic bags are mistaken for food by whales and turtles, and even when plastic breaks down into smaller pieces it is ingested by marine life. These tiny bits of plastic act like sponges, attracting pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals. Toxic microplastics have even been found in the seafood we eat. Banning plastic bags is an important step in the reducing this pollution. I wish to thank Governor Cuomo for signing this into law.”

Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, Chair of the Arts and Tourism Committee said, “Single-use plastics are incredibly harmful to our environment, and pollute our landscapes and oceans. I’m glad New York State is following California’s lead on banning plastic bags, and I look forward to passage of legislation that makes us a leader by further discouraging use of other single-use plastics. While the change seems radical to some, all it takes is a first step in realizing our impact on our environment, and I’m glad my legislative colleagues and the Governor have taken that first step.”