Cuomo proposes statewide ban on disposable plastic bags

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a statewide ban on plastic shopping bags Monday - though at least one leading environmental advocacy group says his plan doesn't go nearly far enough in combating a leading source of litter and pollution.

The legislation announced by Cuomo, a Democrat, would ban single-use plastic bags around the state, while blocking any local government regulation from imposing their own rules or fees. It would go into effect in 2019, and be accompanied by a state campaign to increase the use of reusable bags. Plastic bags used to contain vegetables or raw meat would be excluded from the ban, as would tradition plastic garbage bags or dry-cleaning bags.

California and Hawaii already ban disposable plastic bags. So do many cities including Chicago, Seattle and more than a dozen local communities in New York state.

New Yorkers use an estimated 23 billion plastic bags each year.

"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," Cuomo said in a statement announcing the proposal.

Environmental groups have pushed Cuomo to adopt a statewide ban after he and lawmakers last year blocked a proposed plastic bag fee from taking effect in New York City. On Monday, Peter M. Iwanowicz, executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York, said that under Cuomo's new proposal some thicker plastic bags would still be allowed under the idea that they are reusable.

"The governor's proposal has so many loopholes, it's hard to tell what plastic bag it would restrict, if any," he said.

Plastic bag manufacturers also slammed Cuomo's proposal. Matt Seaholm, executive director of the manufacturer-backed American Progressive Bag Alliance, called Cuomo's proposal "misguided" and a burden on consumers.

"Bans tried elsewhere have made it harder for families to pay for groceries while also incentivizing shoppers to use bags that are worse for the environment than 100 percent recyclable, highly reused plastic retail bags," Seaholm said.

An alternative statewide ban on plastic bags has already been introduced in the state Senate but hasn't gained much traction so far. New York City's bag fee was opposed by lawmakers from both parties who worried about the effect on low-income consumers who can't afford the bag fee or the cost of reusable bags.

Cuomo's new proposal came on the same day that his Democratic primary opponent Cynthia Nixon joined hundreds of New Yorkers at an environmental rally outside the state Capitol.