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Plastic bag ban is back, court rules

Enforcement will start in October, DEC says

A plastic bag lies along the railroad tracks in Saranac Lake in September 2018. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

ALBANY — The state Department of Environmental Conservation on Friday announced enforcement of New York’s plastic bag ban will begin Oct. 19.

In August, state Supreme Court Judge Gerald Connolly, Albany County, ruled the ban will be enforced, more than six months after the Bag Waste Reduction Law took effect March 1. Enforcement stalled in the spring as the COVID-19 pandemic strengthened and leading plastic bag manufacturer Poly-Pak Industries and convenience stores across the state challenged the ban in a lawsuit against the DEC.

“The court’s decision is a victory and a vindication of New York state’s efforts to end the scourge of single-use plastic bags and a direct rebuke to the plastic bag manufacturers who tried to stop the law and DEC’s regulations to implement it,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement. “As we have for many months, DEC is encouraging New Yorkers to make the switch to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common-sense precautions to keep reusable bags clean.”

Connolly said Poly-Pak and other complainants failed to adequately establish how the ban might bankrupt their industries, a chief argument in the suit.

The DEC agreed to provide the court and the parties at least 30 days’ notice before enforcement would begin, and the Oct. 19 compliance date was set in a letter filed in court Friday by state Assistant Attorney General Susan Taylor.

The ban prohibits sales-tax collecting people and stores from distributing single-use, film plastic bags, with exceptions.

Exceptions to the ban include plastic bags used to hold produce in grocery stores, bags used to hold loose screws and other fasteners at hardware stores, restaurant carry-out bags, bags for pharmaceuticals, newspaper bags and garment bags.

Selling reusable bags at businesses and large corporations, like Walmart, Price Chopper and other grocery stores, is not a new concept, though official regulations on reusable bag characteristics through the Reduction Law were initially expected to take effect March 14.

According to the law, reusable bags should be made of washable fabric or thick plastic, at least 10 mil thick. But Poly-Pak argued the entire ban should be overturned because exempting reusable plastic bags would require further legislation to account for an exception for thicker plastic bags. As part of Judge Connolly’s ruling, the state will not be able to enforce reusable plastic bag regulations, as allowing those reusable plastic bags is in “plain contradiction” to the law.

“It remains, of course, within the province of the Legislature to enact legislation to the extent it seeks to expand the list of ‘exempt bags,'” he wrote in his decision.

Enforcement of the law’s remaining provisions includes financial penalties for distributing plastic bags.

Including New York, eight states currently have plastic bag bans. The DEC estimates 23 billion plastic bags are used in the state every year, and the 2019 passage of the Bag Waste Reduction Law is designed to reduce that figure.

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