Proposed Plastic Bag Fee Sparks Controversy in City Council

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There’s no way around it: Plastic bags are not good for the environment. Seeing them floating along in the breeze, unless you’re in American Beauty, usually makes you feel like you live in a city made of garbage. Which, we do, but it’s nice not to think about it constantly. And they’re really tricky to recycle: They clog machinery, there’s not any market for their reuse, and most end up going straight into the dump. But at a City Council hearing yesterday, a proposed ten cent fee on all plastic and paper bags was met with staunch opposition. Why? Because, opponents argued, the fee would essentially be a regressive tax: The poor and the elderly, people who can least afford it, would have an extra couple dollars tacked on to their grocery bills.

“Quite frankly, I’m ashamed to sit here today to talk about actually raising taxes on New Yorkers,” Brooklyn Councilmember David Greenfield said, according to the New York Post

Bronx Councilman James Vacca agreed: “You are talking, when you add up supermarkets, bodegas, and delis and drugstores, you are talking five to six dollars a week on average.”

The fee was based on successfully enacted, similar proposals in other cities, like Washington D.C.’s 5 cent bag tax. Since that measure passed in 2009, officials reported a 60 percent decrease in plastic bags. The idea of the fee is mostly to serve as a deterrent.

Though it’s up for debate whether the 10 cent fee is the best solution, it’s clear that something has to be done about the plastic bag problem: The city currently pays $12.5 million per year to haul away bags, about 100,000 tons of them. And those bags, as Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said, are also more visible in the wild in low-income neighborhoods where there are waste transfer stations.

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