Well, that was a letdown.
The promised solution to New York’s plastic bag “scourge” was a menu of options rather than solid legislation to rein in the estimated 23 billion single-use shopping bags distributed annually statewide.
New York has tried for years — as have other states, localities and countries — to wean us off the fossil-fuel-based bags, whose utility averages 12 minutes but whose aesthetic and environmental impacts last much longer.
Nearly a year ago, Gov. Andrew Cuomo established the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force, vowing it “will be different than usual, as this matter requires expeditious action.”
The group, named as Cuomo approved a last-minute ban on New York City’s planned 5-cent fee on plastic bags, was supposed to fashion a statewide solution.
“By the end of this year , this task force will conclude with a report and proposed legislation,” the governor said at the time. “I look forward to New York State leading the way on this issue.”
But year-end came and went. Instead, the report dropped on a Saturday on a holiday weekend.
You may recall that in 2009 the state passed legislation requiring that large retailers, supermarkets and multistore chains take back the bags used at checkout. A few years later, the law expanded to include other kinds of thin-film plastic.
But the bags still proliferated, littering land and waterways, gumming up municipal machinery, and, ingested as microplastics by fish and wildlife, entering the food chain.
As the Big Apple tried to do, nearly a dozen New York municipalities have enacted bag fees or bans or combinations of both.
Those options were among the eight put forth by the task force, along with staying the course with the 2009 law or beefing up its reporting requirements.
But a “uniform state plan for addressing the bag problem,” as Cuomo sought? It wasn’t there.
Cuomo this week unveiled his 2018-19 executive budget, where the focus has been on finding ways to plug a projected $4.4 billion deficit. Could that push plastic bag legislation to the back burner this year?
Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, doesn’t think so.
He, too, was underwhelmed by the task force report and its lack of “political will.” Iwanowicz wrote to the governor in September to express “more than a modicum of concern” with the group’s progress.
But on Tuesday, describing himself as an “extremely optimistic individual” with 25 years of watching the action in Albany, Iwanowicz said legislative breakthroughs are not unheard of in tough budget years.
All it takes, he said is a “serious proposal” by one of the Capitol’s famed “three men in a room” to get what he sees as New York’s best solution: Ban plastic bags and charge a fee for alternatives other than recyclable totes, as proffered by the task force as a hybrid option.
Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.