Pull out those reusable bags, because the single-use plastic bag ban is back.
Although it went into effect on March 1, state regulators held off on enforcing the ban for the past few months.
A lawsuit was almost immediately filed by plastic bag manufacturers and convenience store owners, who said that eliminating plastic would be a huge blow to their businesses.
At the same time, COVID-19 started to sweep through the state, prompting the Department of Environmental Conservation to halt enforcement of the plastic bag ban for the time being.
However this past week, Acting Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly ruled in favor of the plastic bag ban.
Environmental advocates like Judith Enck applauded this win.
“New Yorkers were doing a really good job in late February and early March,” Enck said. “So there’s just been this delay, understandably due to not only COVID, but the court decision. But now we can set the reset button and drive down that number of 23 billion plastic bags being used every year in New York state.”
Yet, Justice Connolly also struck down one portion of the plastic bag ban.
Rules drawn up by state regulators specified that retailers can provide a customer with a reusable bag made with plastic that is at least 10 mils thick, think 10 pieces of paper stacked together.
Justice Connolly said that this exemption for certain reusable plastic bags was in contradiction of the state law.
“That the portion of the Bag Regulations allowing for use of certain plastic reusable bags is in plain contradiction of the Bag Reduction Act is further borne out by the legislative history herein," he wrote.
“It remains, of course, within the province of the Legislature to enact legislation to the extent it seeks to expand the list of ‘exempt bags,’ ” Justice Connolly continued.
Opponent of this law, Zachary Taylor, director of the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, sent a statement in response saying, “Unfortunately, we are back where we started, and New York’s bag ban is still broken. If there is one thing that is very clear from the judge’s ruling it’s that New York has an unworkable plastic bag law and it must be fixed.”
Taylor continued, “If the state moves forward with enforcing this broken law, businesses that are now spending more on PPE, safety protocols and other COVID-era requirements, could be put in an impossible situation of being required to provide bags they can’t get.”
Poly-Pak Industries, which participated in the lawsuit, agrees that this ruling by Justice Connolly means that state lawmakers need to fix the law.
“We greatly appreciate that the court agreed with our premise that the state DEC overstepped its powers in drafting unworkable regulations for the ill-conceived bag ban,” Ken Trottere, vice president of Poly-Pak Industries wrote. “But now we are back at square one: With a poorly written policy that threatens the very existence of our company, which has been located on Long Island for decades. Lawmakers must now come up with a plan that works for businesses and the environment alike. We stand ready to assist in that process, and point to existing local approaches – like the one in Suffolk County – as a potential compromise solution.”
It is still unclear when the plastic bag ban will start to be enforced. The Department of Environmental Conservation says they will give businesses a 30 days’ notice on the intent to start enforcement.
"The Court’s decision is a victory and a vindication of New York State’s efforts to end the scourge of single-use plastic bags and a direct rebuke to the plastic bag manufacturers who tried to stop our law," said Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. "DEC encourages New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common-sense precautions to keep reusable bags clean."