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Starting March 1, 2020, New York's ban on single-use plastic bags will take effect. Just this week, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released its final regulations to govern the ban.  Yesterday Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a statewide education and outreach campaign to ensure that New Yorkers are aware of the March 1 ban on single-use plastic bags.  The BYOBagNY campaign, spearheaded by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, includes TV and radio advertisements, social media, Google Ads, and events hosted by Feeding New York State food banks across the state.

"Right this minute, plastic bags are hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, filling up our landfills and polluting our lakes, rivers and streams—all hurting our environment," Cuomo said. "Twelve million barrels of oil are used to make the plastic bags we use every year and by 2050 there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than fish. We took bold action to protect our environment and ban these environmental blights and with this campaign we're going to make sure New Yorkers are ready and have all the facts."

As part of this effort, DEC is distributing more than 270,000 reusable bags with a focus on low- and moderate-income communities. DEC's BYOBagNY campaign includes TV and radio placements, ads on YouTube targeting New Yorkers, boosted social media placements, a Google ad campaign, video promotions at Thruway rest stops and more that will continue over the next few months.

In addition, DEC is bolstering its ongoing outreach to stakeholders and industry associations, including the Food Industry Alliance, the Retail Council, New York State Association of Counties and convenience stores, and partnering with New York State agencies to distribute reusable bags and elevate the BYOBagNY message. DEC is also providing its nine regional offices with BYOBagNY educational materials for use as outreach at public events and is working with New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to coordinate cross-agency efforts related to clear communication of the law entities required to collect state sales tax. DEC is currently distributing hundreds of thousands of reusable bags across the state to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers with the help of partner state agencies and Feeding New York State, the statewide food bank organization.

Mildred Warner is a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University, an expert on how to promote environmental sustainability at the local level, and a fellow at the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability who lead a project which resulted in the creation of guide for regulating plastic bags. She says while New York's hybrid model for banning plastic bags with a fee on alternatives is key, if there are loopholes – such as thickness requirements – the plastic bag manufacturers and retailers will take advantage.

"As New York implements its plastic bag ban on March 1, it will join only a handful of other states that have also taken the lead to reduce plastic waste in our waterways and streets," Warner says. "As we know, the costs of plastic bag waste are high, both in terms of environmental degradation and waste management.

"Research shows that the best way to get rid of plastic bags is to use a hybrid model: a plastic bag ban, plus a fee for paper bags. The hybrid model encourages consumers to bring reusable bags and the fee can also be used to purchase reusable bags for use by low income consumers.

"New York's plastic bag ban borrows from best practices in that it's a hybrid system that involves both a ban and a fee on alternatives. Where the law could be improved is in allowing counties to impose a higher fee – closer to the actual costs of plastic bag clean up. New York has set its optional county fee too low at five cents, with only two cents of that amount going to the county. Had New York state increased that fee, it could have left more of those funds in the hands of counties, which bear the costs of waste management and recycling.

"Research from other cities shows that if there are loopholes, such as the ability to get around the thickness requirements, the plastic bag manufacturers and retailers will do it. This is another reason to include a fee for any alternative bag – plastic or paper.

"New York state has given retailers and the bag manufacturers a year to get prepared for this shift. Now they need to work on consumer education. Retailer and consumer behavior are key: retailors need to reduce their use and promote alternatives, but equally as important, consumers will also need to make the shift."

DEC will continue to focus its outreach and education efforts to ensure a smooth transition for consumers and affected retailers, with enforcement to follow in the months ahead. Cuomo signed legislation to ban the sale of single-use plastic bags in New York State on Earth Day, April 23, 2019.

On Feb. 17, DEC released final regulations to implement the New York State Plastic Bag Waste Reduction Act. After a thorough review of the approximately 2,500 comments received from stakeholders and communities during the 60-day public comment period and hearing, these final regulations will be published in the State Register on Feb. 26, 2020. DEC updated the proposed regulations that were released in November 2019 based on the comments received from the public to include minor refinements in keeping with the overriding objective of the Act to reduce plastic bag waste.

New Yorkers use an estimated 23 billion plastic bags annually - each for about 12 minutes - and approximately 85 percent of this staggering total ends up in landfills, recycling machines, waterways and streets. In March 2017 the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force was created, chaired by DEC Commissioner Seggos. The task force met several times to develop a uniform, comprehensive and equitable solution to the challenge of plastic bag waste. The final report analyzed the impacts of single-use plastic bags and provided options for legislation that could help develop a statewide solution. In addition, following passage of the New York State Plastic Bag Waste Reduction Act, DEC held a series of meetings with industry stakeholders across the state to invite input from the public and guide the agency's development of rules and regulations to implement the law.

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