By Jason Hopkins
New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has begun a push to completely ban single-use plastic bags, a move he believes will help the environment, but may also burden low-income earners with higher grocery costs.
Cuomo introduced legislation Monday that would, if passed by the state legislature, ban the type of single-use plastic bags that have become a mainstay in grocery stores by January 2019. The announcement came just a day after Earth Day and follows a more leftward swing by Cuomo, who is running for a third gubernatorial term and is facing a progressive primary challenger.
“The blight of plastic bags takes a devastating toll on our streets, our water and our natural resources, and we need to take action to protect our environment,” the governor said in a Monday statement as he introduced the bill. “As the old proverb goes: ‘We did not inherit the earth, we are merely borrowing it from our children,’ and with this action we are helping to leave a stronger, cleaner and greener New York for all.”
Cuomo’s call for an outright ban came as a surprise to many, given in 2017 he had blocked New York City’s attempt to enact a 5-cent surcharge to every plastic bag, citing it as an undue burden for the city’s poor. Cuomo has notably shifted to the left since “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon entered the gubernatorial primary in March. She has since served as a progressive challenger to the sitting governor, and has suggested that her entrance into the race has prompted Cuomo to adopt more left-leaning positions.
“There certainly seems to be, in the last month, a number of issues on which Governor Cuomo has reversed himself rather startlingly,” Nixon said at an environmental rally in Albany, held the same day Cuomo unveiled his plastic bag ban. The television actress-turned liberal politician has called on Cuomo to do more for the environment, including a more abrupt shift to renewable energy use.
A plastic bag ban, however, faces uncertain odds in the New York legislature, where the GOP controls the state Senate. Other Democrats may be wary of the measure given the added expense placed on the poor. In fact, the same task force report that led to Monday’s proposal also acknowledged that such a ban would raise prices for consumers. Paper bags, a typical alternative, cost “three to five times as much as single-use plastic bags,” the report noted.
Locals reacted to what a ban would mean for the community.
“I work for AIM independent living center and we work with a wide variety of individuals from poor to middle class,” said New York state resident Erin Moresman in a WETM 18 News report published Tuesday. “It would have an impact on many elderly people who have a fixed income and those who are in poverty. They’re living month to month on incomes that are barely buying groceries and then you are asking them to purchase bags as well.”
Similar bans have spelled economic trouble for countries around the globe.
After Kenya launched the toughest plastic ban policy in the world in August 2017, the small African country has been beset with unintended consequences. Many of the new bags citizens must use are six times more expensive, putting undue strain on business and consumers. Samuel Matonda, a spokesman for the Kenyan manufacturers association, estimated that 80 percent of his member companies have taken a hit, and claimed that around 100,000 people have lost their job.
If passed, New York would join two other deep-blue states in enacting an outright ban on single-use plastic bags. The California legislature passed such a similar bill in 2016, and Hawaii holds a de fecto ban since every county in the state has instituted a ban.
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