New York Requires Statewide Plastic Bag Recycling

ALBANY, New York, December 15, 2008 (ENS) - New York Governor David Paterson Saturday signed legislation to increase the collection and recycling of plastic carryout bags from large stores and retail or grocery chain stores across the state.

Originally passed by the State Legislature in June, the bill was held up by a potential conflict between the state law and a more expansive bag recycling law passed by the City of New York in January.

With a comprehensive plastic recycling law in place at the state level, local governments are pre-empted from adopting their own laws on this issue.

The state legislation initially threatened to preempt New York City's law, and would have reduced the number of city stores required to accept bags from consumers for recycling.

However, Governor Paterson Saturday announced an agreement on legislation that "grandparents" in the city's plastic bag law, so as to allow it to remain in full force and effect.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said, "Today marks a great victory for environmental responsibility in New York City and throughout the state. Thanks to the efforts of the City Council and a host of environmental advocates, the legislation signed by Governor Paterson has been altered to preserve the city's landmark plastic bag recycling law."

The state's compromise measure met with the approval of state agency officials, environmentalists, entertainer Bette Midler, who founded the New York Restoration Project, even the American Chemistry Council.

The new state law takes effect on January 1, 2009. It covers retail stores with more than 10,000 square feet of retail space, or those that are part of a chain with more than five stores, each with more than 5,000 square feet of retail space.

These stores must provide bins for the collection of used plastic carryout bags, recycle the returned bags, and keep records for three years describing the amount of plastic bags collected and recycled.

"Even during difficult times we must be protective stewards of our environment, and continue to find ways to keep our daily routines from negatively impacting the long-term health of the planet," said Governor Paterson, announcing the new law. "By making changes in our daily lives and business practices, we can conserve natural resources, save energy and reduce our ecological footprint."

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said, "Governor Paterson has delivered a significant win for the environment. This new law will help boost recycling and reduce waste goals all New Yorkers share."

Senator Carl Marcellino, chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and co-author of the bill, said, "This bill will make it convenient and easy for residents across the state to recycle plastic bags. Their efforts will save landfill space, reduce litter and decrease our dependence on foreign oil. It is small steps like these that green our world."

Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, the bill's other co-author, said, "This is the strongest state plastic bag recycle law in the country. New York consumers and environmentalists can be proud that our state is taking strong action to reduce the amount of loose plastic bags that would otherwise end up in our delicate ecosystem. This law will also cut down the amount of petroleum used to produce these bags."

Midler commended Governor Paterson for recognizing the need for New York City to have a more stringent program for recycling plastic bags. "Americans use over 84 billion plastic bags annually, about one billion of them in New York City," she said. "This is an important step toward building a comprehensive solid waste management regime, and on behalf of all of us in New York City, I thank you for your understanding of the severity of the problem and your cooperation in finding a solution."

Eric Goldstein, New York Urban Program Director at the Natural Resource Defense Council, said, "The billions of plastic bags that are used in New York State every year impose a mounting environmental burden. They litter our streets, sidewalks, highways and parks. They get into waterways and endanger marine life. They end up in landfills, where it can take up to 1,000 years for them to decompose. Substituting throw-away plastic bags with reusable sacks is a small lifestyle change that can make a big difference over time."

"This is a significant victory for New York's citizens and the environment," said Sharon Kneiss, vice president of the Products Divisions of the American Chemistry Council, a chemicals industry association. "The new law creates one consistent standard statewide that all municipalities can follow, while allowing existing programs to continue uninterrupted."

"The two states with the largest populations on each coast now have statewide plastic bag recycling programs," Kneiss said, referring to recently enacted similar legislation in California. "Clearly, lawmakers recognize that plastics are a valuable material that should be recycled."

The American Chemistry Council's latest statistics show that the recycling of plastic bags and wraps increased 24 percent nationwide in 2006. Legislation in New York, California and numerous large cities is expected to increase the amount of plastic bags and wraps that are diverted from landfills and turned into new consumer products, such as durable decking, fencing, railings, shopping carts and new bags.

{Photo: Plastic bag caught in a New York City tree by Andrea Demers}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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