Green Party Tells Speaker Heastie: If You Can’t Stomach Restricting Plastic Bags, Just Ban Them

The Green Party today said that if Assembly Speaker Heastie is unwilling to recognize the right of NYC to enact a law restricting plastic bags, then he should enact a statewide ban on plastic bags.

“The plastic industry unsuccessfully sought to use their money to stop the City Council from taking action on plastic bags. So now they are trying to get Heastie and other state legislators to overrule the City Council. We don’t need Albany lobbyists and their paid politicians telling NYC what to do on such an issue. But if Heastie is so tied up in knots over a 5 cents fee if you don’t use returnable bags, then just simplify it and ban plastic bags statewide,” said Gloria Mattera of Brooklyn, Green Party state co-chair.

The Green Party organized the first major event in the city four years ago with over 120 attendees calling for a ban on plastic bags where local city Councilmember Brad Lander spoke. Many of the initial organizers for a ban on plastic bags were volunteers for the Brooklyn Congressional campaign of Colin Beavan, internationally known for his documentary “No Impact Man” on how to personally eliminate your environmental footprint.

The Green Party called for a citywide ban. However, the legislation was repeatedly rewritten by Councilmember Lander to placate local concerns and legal restrictions on city legislative authority. Among the compromises that were agreed to by Lander and the coalition were: doing a fee on plastic bags rather than a ban; exempting low-income consumers (e.g., using food stamps / SNAP and/or WIC); giving the fee to the store owners rather than the city; lowering the fee from 10 cents to 5 cents; and, delaying implementation of the enacted law until Feb. 15, 2017. Mayor Bloomberg initially proposed a 6 cents fee on plastic bags back in 2008.

Plastic bags are a financial and environmental disaster. New Yorkers dispose of 9.37 billion carryout bags per year, the vast majority of which are not recycled. New York City pays an estimated $12.5 million to transport an estimated 91,000 tons of plastic and paper carryout bags to landfills in other states each year. Plastic bags jam expensive machinery at recycling plants and contaminate the recycling stream, increasing costs. They are a major source of litter everywhere as the wind carries them even into wilderness areas and they end up as a major pollution source in our oceans.

“One reason to get rid of plastic bags is to reduce the use of fossil fuels that go into their manufacture. In case state legislators don’t realize it, NYC is one of the cities most vulnerable to rising sea levels. Perhaps legislators like Assemblymember Felder and Senators Golden and Avella want New Yorkers to stockpile them to use as sandbags to hold back the flood waters but that is not going to work,” noted Mark Dunlea, a Green Party activist from Brooklyn and Poestenkill.

Plastic bags never biodegrade, but they do breakdown. As they do so, the toxic additives they contain—including flame retardants, antimicrobials and plasticizers—are released into the environment. Many of these chemicals may disrupt the endocrine system. Plastic bags are especially harmful to marine animals, often choking them. Fish eat the colorful plastic bits and in a few years one out of three pounds of fish harvested will be plastic by weight. For sea turtles, the plastic blocks their digestive tract and the food that is trapped releases gases that render them buoyant and unable to dive for food.

Among the NYS communities already banning plastic bags are New Paltz; East Hampton and South Hampton, on Long Island; and Larchmont, Rye and Mamaroneck in Westchester County. Suffolk County and the City of Long Beach have enacted plastic bag fees.

“With the Trump regime sowing havoc at the federal level, it is imperative that our state and local governments step up to protect the environment. The last thing we need is to have the State legislature sell out to the plastic industry and overrule local environmental reforms,” added Peter LaVenia,  state co-chair.

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