ALBANY — New York state’s stiff new restrictions on single-use plastic were mostly upheld Thursday, as a judge rejected challenges to regulations that were to have taken effect March 1.
The Bag Waste Reduction Act was widely called a plastic bag ban, because while it does allow many types of plastic bags to remain in use for many different purposes, it prohibits use of the thin-film carry-out bags that cashiers have been loading with their customers’ purchases for decades.
An estimated 23 billion of these have been handed out per year in the state, most of them used a short period and then discarded, some of them winding up as non-biodegradable litter blighting the landscape.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation did not begin enforcement of the bag law as scheduled March 1, while a plastic bag manufacturer and several small grocers challenged it in state Supreme Court, Albany County.
At the same time, a number of retailers that had halted use of plastic bags in late February started using them again in mid-March amid sanitary concerns created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
DEC has not moved to begin enforcement as the challenge made its way through the court process.
After Judge Gerald Connolly ruled against the challengers Thursday, DEC said it would “soon” provide notice and guidance to retailers about how it would start to enforce the law.
In a statement, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said: “The Court’s decision is a victory and a vindication of New York State’s efforts to end the scourge of single-use plastic bags and a direct rebuke to the plastic bag manufacturers who tried to stop our law. DEC encourages New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common-sense precautions to keep reusable bags clean.”
Two Albany attorneys representing the businesses petitioning against the ban did not return a request for comment for this story.
The petitioners are a Long Island manufacturer of plastic shopping bags; a Bronx man and the bodega he operates; and an industry association representing 5,000 bodegas and other stores in New York state.
Connolly ruled as follows on the petitioners’ five-point challenge:
— The Bag Reduction Act bans retailers from using reusable plastic bags, contradicting the earlier Bag Recycling Act requiring retailers to make such bags available.
— Rejected. The new law pre-empts the old.
— The Bag Reduction Act is unconstitutionally vague and therefore void, as it appears to simultaneously permit and forbid reusable plastic bags.
— Rejected. The petitioners didn’t make their case.
— The Bag Reduction Act violates the anti-gift clauses of the state constitution by granting a boon to manufacturers of fabric and paper bags while denying similar advantage to makers of reusable plastic bags.
— Rejected. The state demonstrated the law does not violate the anti-gift clauses.
— The regulations as laid out by DEC (allowing distribution of thick reusable plastic bags, but with grossly excessive requirements on such bags) exceed and contradict the provisions of the Bag Reduction Act, and as such DEC has improperly engaged in legislative policy making.
— Upheld. The thick reusable plastic bag exemption is inconsistent with the language and purpose of the law. The state is barred from allowing the exemption.
— The thick reusable plastic bag regulations are arbitrary, capricious and grossly excessive.
— Rejected. The regulations are invalid and therefore there’s no need to decide whether they are arbitrary or capricious.
The judge also rejected other arguments by the petitioners, including their claim that the public health crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic provides grounds to invalidate the bag reduction act.
Connolly awarded the petitioners statutory costs of $200.