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Governor Cuomo wants to ban plastic bags across New York State

By Clayton Guse

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s opinions on plastic are a bit of a mixed bag. On Monday, he introduced a bill to ban all single-use, plastic carryout bags from any point of sale in the state. The move came less than two years after he kiboshed a similar bill signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2016, New York City approved a bill that would institute a five-cent tax on all disposable retail shopping bags within the five boroughs. Cuomo blocked it and proceeded to commission a study to provide recommendations on an alternate piece of bag-restricting legislation, the results of which were released earlier this year. 

Since that study was released, De Blasio has gone on a warpath to ban the ocean-polluting receptacles from the city. He shared an op-ed by the Times last month, stating that the state is “behind the curve” on the issue. Now, Cuomo is completely changing his tune. 

"The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment," he said in a statement. "As the old proverb goes: 'We did not inherit the earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children,' and with this action we are helping to leave a stronger, cleaner and greener New York for all."

The proposal comes as Cuomo’s main competitor in this September’s Democratic primary, Cynthia Nixon, is gaining steam and political support from progressive, left-leaning camps. The bill is nothing revolutionary but would give Cuomo an easy piece of pro-environmental legislation in an election year. 

If passed, the bag ban would go into effect at the start of 2019 and would exempt garment bags, trash bags and any bags used to wrap certain types of foods like fruits and sliced meats. Cuomo’s office says that banning plastic bags would save New York City an estimated $12.5 million in disposal costs each year, which is plenty enough to irk advocates of the city’s nixed bag tax in 2016.

Plastic bag bans are already in effect in 10 municipalities across New York State as well as in other major cities like Chicago and Los Angeles. At least in Chicago, the ban was wildly ineffective—people there started throwing away the heavy-duty reusable plastic bags that replaced the flimsy disposable ones, effectively undoing any impact that the law hoped to make.

New York’s ban could very well be different. Regardless, the real root of the issue here is not the types of bags that shops dole out—it’s the rate at which New Yorkers dispose of trash in general. 

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