New York City Approves Grocery Bag Fee

New York’s City Council contentiously passed a bill that will impose a five-cent fee for single-use plastic and paper bags at grocery and convenience stores. The bill will go into effect starting in October. By imposing a fee on both paper and plastic, New York City’s bill aims to reduce waste and spur consumers to carry reusable bags when they go food shopping.

“It works by irritating us into changing our behavior and remembering to bring reusable bags,” said Councilman Brad Lander (D), a co-sponsor who first introduced the bill in 2013. Debate over the bill was heated, and while most measures in New York’s City Council are passed by a wide margin, the bag fee passed by a vote of 28 to 20.

Distributors based in New York City see the measure as a tremendous development for the industry, given the focus on reusable bags. “This presents us with a great opportunity to encourage good behavior while helping our clients expand their brand and message,” said Larry Cohen, president of Top 40 distributor Axis Promotions (asi/128263), which is based in Manhattan. “Many retailers will start to sell these as well. Personally, I think the nylon bags that pack into themselves are an ideal gift as they are strong, packable and take up little space.”

Certain entities are exempt from the ban, including restaurants that offer takeout, plastic bags used for produce and meat, small paper bags for prescriptions, and bags used at state-regulated liquor stores and food kitchens. People who purchase groceries with food stamps are exempt as well.

Joseph Sommer, owner of Whitestone Works (asi/359741), believes that New York City residents will only need a couple months to adjust to the law. “This new law will be a huge boost to the promotional product industry, as people will bring their shopping bags with them when they go to the bodega around the corner,” said Sommer, whose company is based in Manhattan. “Distributors can sell bags to their customers and reach out to bodega and grocery stores. I think there is a huge opportunity to sell these bags to stores for their resale as point-of-purchase goods.”

City vendors who disregard the bag fee law will be charged with $250 and $500 penalties for first and subsequent violations. Though the ban takes effect this October, the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs will only issue warnings until April 1 next year. The bag fees will go to retailers and not the city.

The Sanitation Department of New York City collects over 9 million single-use plastic bags every year. Backers of the bill say the fee will reduce 60% to 90% of that waste. Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the bill.

“This is obviously phenomenal for the industry,” said Jon Borowka, a Long Island-based account relationship manager for Motivators Promotional Products (asi/277780). “It’s going to be a repeat large order for every chain store and mom-and-pop shop alike. You will get your pushback from people set in their ways, but so much is spent on discarding plastic bags.”

Opponents of the bill cite that the surcharge will essentially act as another tax for the city’s inhabitants. Simcha Felder (D), a former city councilman who currently is a New York State Senator, recently introduced a bill in the state assembly (which passed a committee last week) that would prohibit bag fees at the local level. “That’s nothing less than a tax on the poor and the middle class – the most disadvantaged people,” he said, as reported by The New York Times.