For most people, plastic bags are a staple of any shopping trip. They might seem like an innocent way to tote groceries, but disposing these bags can be harmful for the environment.
It is estimated that the world uses about 500 billion plastic bags each year and fewer than 3% are recycled. Plastic bags that end up in oceans and beaches are harmful to fish, birds, and other animals. As a result, cities and states have been trying, for years, to find a way to get people to cut back on using plastic bags.
This year, New York City was prepared to add a 5-cent tax on the use of paper or plastic bags in stores. But, on February 14, New York Governor Andrea Cuomo signed legislation that blocked the tax. It wasn’t much of a Valentine’s gift to Mother Earth. Cuomo said the tax idea was “deeply flawed” because it would have allowed storeowners to keep the money from the tax instead of putting it toward environmental efforts. Cuomo announced plans to create a task force to look into the plastic-bag problem. By the end of the year, the task force may suggest a statewide ban of plastic bags, a tax on them, or sometime entirely new.
“It is a statewide challenge,” Cuomo said. “As such, a statewide solution is the most appropriate way to address this issue.”
A Widespread Issue
Several cities around the country have either banned single-use plastic bags or imposed a fee for their use. In Washington, D.C., the charge is 5 cents per bag. Since the fee started there, the number of plastic bags on the streets and waterways dropped by 60%.
Seattle, Washington, has banned plastic carryout bags and charges a minimum of 5 cents for paper. Chicago, Illinois, will soon add a 7-cent tax on paper and plastic bags.
Hearing Both Sides
In New York, some politicians who opposed a tax say it puts too much stress on low-income citizens and working families. They argue that those people need the extra nickel to spend on food, not on bags.
At an Albany legislative meeting, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke in favor of the tax. He said people using food stamps to buy food would not have to pay the tax. In addition, the city planned to give out thousands of reusable bags for free.
State Senator Simcha Felder of Brooklyn opposed the tax. New Yorkers are already “over taxed, over fined, over ticketed,” he said. "New Yorkers are tired of being insulted," he added. "If government doesn't have a way to fix something, it's 'no problem: tax [it]!'"
New York City Councilman Brad Lander is one of the sponsors of the bag fee bill. He said council members spent two years researching a way to handle the 91,000 tons of solid waste caused by plastic bags in the city each year. "We fought plastic bags, and for now, plastic bags won," he said. "They are stubborn and toxic forms of solid waste. They never biodegrade, so they pollute our trees, oceans, and landfills forever."
What do you think? Should states limit the use of plastic bags?
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