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How the 5-Cent Plastic Bag 'Tax' Will Impact You

By Nicole Levy | May 9, 2016 6:31pm | Updated on May 10, 2016 9:30am
 As of Oct. 1, stores in New York City will charge shoppers 5 cents for each plastic bag used.
As of Oct. 1, stores in New York City will charge shoppers 5 cents for each plastic bag used.
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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The New York City Council passed a bill Thursday requiring most stores to charge customers a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags.

Supporters of the legislation, which has Mayor Bill de Blasio's approval, argue it will reduce the use of plastic bags in the city by as much as 90 percent and shrink the production of solid waste by 91,000 tons each year.

Opponents worry the bill will impose a greater burden on low-income New Yorkers.

Here's what every consumer in the city should know about the nickel fee and how it affects them:

► The measure won't go into effect until Oct. 1, and stores won't be fined for non-enforcement until April 1, 2017.

► The bill is technically not a tax because stores will keep the money raised.

► A disposable bag will cost you 5 cents at all kinds of stores, not just supermarkets: drug stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, clothing stores, home center and hardware stores, and office supply stores.

► The exceptions to that rule are the bags you use to carry un-packaged foods like produce and meats to the check-out counter, bags provided for your prescription drugs and garment bags.

► Stores won't charge you for re-using disposable bags you bring with you.

► If you're paying for your purchase at a supermarket with food stamps, you're exempt from the 5-cent fee.

► Stand-alone restaurants and food carts won't collect fees for the paper and plastic bags that carry your takeout and delivery orders.

► Liquor stores won't be charging you for your brown bags.

► Some cities in the U.S. haven't just imposed a fee on plastic bags — they've actually banned them outright. Not far from the Big Apple, Mamaroneck, Larchmont, East Hampton, Rye and Southampton all implemented bans between 2011 and 2013.

► Charging consumers for their single-use bags has a record of changing their behavior. Within weeks of passing a plastic bag tax in 2002, Ireland saw a 94 percent drop in plastic bag use, the New York Times reported. And within a year, reusable cloth bags became the norm. 

► If you're looking to score some reusable bags, stores in New York City will be giving them out for free for a two-week period starting Oct. 1 this year. The law also permits them to hand out free reusable bags every year from April 17-30, around the time of Earth Day and the anniversary of the City Council vote in its favor.

The point of limiting the window for reusable plastic and canvas bag handouts is to keep them from being treated like single-use bags, said Paul Leonard, spokesman for Councilwoman Margaret Chin, one of the plastic bag bill's sponsors.

Chin and Councilman Brad Lander, another bill co-sponsor, are in the process of planning several reusable bag giveaways between now and Oct. 1. 

RELATED STORY: Beat the Plastic Bag Tax With These 7 Reusable Shopping Bags