On Thursday, April 28th, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito stated her support for a proposal to tax plastic and paper bags in the City. The original proposal was a 10-cent bag fee, which got lowered to a 5-cent fee in order to accommodate opposing opinions. A week after this support, the bill was passed in the City Council with a 28 to 20 vote. Starting on October 1st, 2016, customers will be taxed per bag they use, with the exception of those who receive SNAP or WIC benefits. The plastic bag tax had been an ongoing debate for at least two years in the City Council – and on the minds of many environmental activists for years prior. Although enough supporters were behind the bill to pass it, there are still many who are fully against it. A likely reason for opposing opinions is the persistence of plastic bags in daily life around the city, and the world.
Plastic bags are easily accessible, can carry a lot without breaking, and are easily reusable; however, for a lot of people once they are out of sight, they are out of mind, too. Many people oppose a tax on them because of the inconvenience factor, but don’t realize the harmful effect they have on our environment. Plastic bags in landfills can take hundreds of years to biodegrade, and when they make it into our water systems, they cause harm to marine life, and eventually to humans. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a many hundred-thousand square mile area of plastic and other debris in the pacific ocean, comprising of microscopic particles of trash in a patch the size of Texas. These nanoparticles are eaten by fish and other marine life, which, when consumed by larger organisms in the food chain make their way in large concentrations to our plates. For precisely this reason, student groups who recognize the danger of continued plastic usage and disposal have formed across the country to protest plastic bags. Bag It NYC is one such group, which has drawn support from a number of conservation organizations over the past few years, holding student protests at the City Council each year as well.
Among all of this protest, however, organizations have arisen to combat movements like the bag tax, and to “prove” how valuable plastic bags are to our society. “Bag the Ban” is a website sponsored by (you guessed it) a plastic bag-making company, Novolex. On their website, a number of “myths vs. facts” about plastic bags are listed, including the “myth” that reusable bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags. Novolex claims that plastic bags “consume fewer natural resources, generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions, take up less landfill space than paper or “reusable” bags.” While it may be true that each plastic bag uses fewer emissions than each paper or reusable bag, what the website neglects to note is how over one trillion (that’s 1,000,000,000,000) plastic bags are used each year worldwide. Companies like Novolex have created this pushback for plastic bags simply because it is how they make their money; however, they also appeal to people’s tendency to use what is easiest, without warning them of the environmental harm plastic bags cause.
The aim of the bag tax in New York City is to be annoying; those who don’t want to pay the five cents a bag will ideally start to bring their own bags, saving money over time. However, this tax might not be as effective on those in higher income brackets, who will have less incentive to bring their own bags when they can easily afford to pay the tax. For those whom the tax may not affect as much, it is still important to remember the detrimental effects that plastic bags have on our environment, and our lives. Each time you bring a reusable bag to the grocery store, you will not only be able to save a few cents — you’ll also be keeping plastic out of landfills, oceans, and your own body.
To learn more about the NYC Bag Tax and plastic bag usage, check out the links below: