New year, new rules.
As 2020 kicks off, the movement to eliminate the use of plastic bags is getting a boost. A spate of new laws and ordinances in states, cities and towns across the U.S. will bring a ban on plastic bags at checkouts.
Oregon is the latest state to make the change. Under the newly passed Sustainable Shopping Initiative, the Beaver State’s retail stores and restaurants will no longer provide single-use checkout bags, as of Jan. 1. Additionally, the state’s retail stores must charge a fee of at least 5 cents for paper bags (with 40% or more post-consumer recycled content), reusable plastic bags and reusable fabric bags. Restaurants can still supply paper bags at no cost.
New York’s ban, signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in April 2019, will go into effect this March. It is estimated that New York uses 23 billion plastic bags every year, with 50% of those bags ending up in landfills and around cities and waterways.
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The new law comes after Cuomo implemented the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force in March 2017 to develop a long-term solution to the state’s plastic bag problem. “Throughout New York State, plastic bags have become a ubiquitous sight on the landscape,” the task force wrote in their final report. “They can be seen stuck in trees as litter in our neighborhoods, floating in our waterways and as a general aesthetic eyesore of our environment. Single-use plastic bags are a detriment to the health of communities and the environment alike.”
Along with Oregon and New York, six other U.S. states currently prohibit plastic bags: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont. California was the first to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban that went into effect in 2016. Additional states could soon follow. The Massachusetts Senate last month approved a plastic bag ban, and the House is now looking at its own bill.
Last month, New Jersey moved closer to banning both plastic and paper bags, along with Styrofoam containers, in what would be one of the strictest bans in the country. Lawmakers in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved an amended version of the bill that calls for single-use plastic and paper bags to be prohibited one year after the law is signed. Styrofoam cups and food containers would be banned two years after the law goes into effect.
New Jersey State Senator Bob Smith, cosponsor of the bill, went so far as to describe the use of plastic bags as “a public health crisis.” “What we’re doing is the strongest plastics legislation in the U.S.,” he added.
As the bill slowly makes its way through the state legislature, at least 10 towns in New Jersey are already moving forward with bans of their own. They include Asbury Park, Bayonne, Glen Rock and Paramus (the state’s shopping mecca, home to several major malls).
Additionally, Albuquerque — New Mexico’s largest metropolitan area — rolled out its plastic ban yesterday. It’s a result of the January 2019 passing of the Clean and Green Retail Ordinance, which prohibits retailers from providing customers with single-use plastic bags or foam containers for their purchases. It also prevents businesses from dispensing single-use straws unless they are paper or biodegradable.
In Ohio, Cuyahoga County — which encompasses Cleveland — put its single-use plastic bag ban into effect on Jan. 1. Although Cleveland later opted out of the county’s program, the city plans to join the initiative by July 2020.
As a growing number of local governments across the U.S. tackle the issue, one of the retail industry’s biggest players is facing heat for its continued use of plastic bags. A Change.org petition has been launched by the advocacy group Customers Who Care, demanding that Target stop “choking the Earth” and take immediate action to eliminate plastic bags. Nearly 470,000 signatures have been collected so far.
The group hopes to reverse the saddening statistic that the U.S. generates more than 4 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps each year (according to the Environmental Protection Agency). Most of that plastic is left to degrade in water and soil, threatening wildlife.
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