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5-Cent Plastic Bag Fee Expected to Get City Council Approval Thursday

By Kathleen Culliton | May 4, 2016 4:12pm
 New York City Council members will vote on legislation that would charge shoppers 5 cents for plastic shopping bags.
New York City Council members will vote on legislation that would charge shoppers 5 cents for plastic shopping bags.
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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

MANHATTAN — The City Council is expected to approve nickel fees on disposable bags Thursday after the controversial bill passed in its committee.  

"We all know plastic bags are a problem," said Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander at the Committee of Sanitation and Solid Waste Management hearing on Wednesday. "The beauty and the challenge of this problem is that we can solve it together with simple actions."

The proposal that calls for a five-cent fee on paper and plastic bags passed with three votes of support and one against. 

It has been expected to pass in the City Council since Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced her support last week and joined 25 supporters who were just one vote shy of the majority.

Advocates of the bill claim that charging shoppers for disposable bags will encourage them to bring reusable ones, alleviating the stress that 9 billion thrown-away plastic bags place on the city's waste removal system. 

"They go to landfills because it’s not economically feasible to recycle them," Lander said of the plastic bags that account for 100,000 tons of solid waste each year. "They never decompose, they just break into pieces."

But opponents question whether the fee will effectively discourage high-income New Yorkers and worry it will place a burden on lower-income New Yorkers. 

In his explanation of why he was voting against the bag fee, Councilman Steven Matteo said, "I don’t think it’s going to change behavior — there’s still going to be bags all over the place."

"I’ve said this for the past two years: If it smells like a tax, looks like a tax, and feels like a tax, it’s a tax."

The legislation has been adapted since it was originally proposed in 2013 with a 10-cent fee. It now allows exemptions for food stamp purchases, take-out deliveries and pharmacy medicine bags.

Lander applauded his fellow councilmembers for their rigorous debate, but argued their opposition was a sign his bill would work. 

“It’s no secret that this bag has many opponents, how could it not?" said Lander. "It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, no one wants to pay that nickel.”