New York bans plastic carryout bags starting in March 2020

In less than a year, you'll no longer hear the question, "Paper or plastic?" at the supermarket in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed a bill into law that bans single-use plastic carryout bags. The law, which takes effect in March 2020, makes exceptions for garment bags, trash bags, and certain food-wrap plastic bags (for example, for fruit and slices deli meat).

"You see plastic bags hanging in trees, blowing down the streets, in landfills and in our waterways, and there is no doubt they are doing tremendous damage," Cuomo said in a statement. "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."

The law gives the state Department of Environmental Protection jurisdiction over plastic bags and related issues. It also allows counties or cities to charge a 5-cent fee for single-use paper bags, which will benefit in part the Environmental Protection Fund.

Rochester-based grocery Wegmans announced Monday that it will reduce many types of single-use plastic products and eliminate plastic bags at its stores in New York by the end of 2019, which is months ahead of the state's ban.

“We want to get out ahead of this because we have a lot to learn from our customers about how we can help them make the shift to reusable bags, which are far better than paper bags for the environment," said Jason Wadsworth, the packaging and sustainability manager for Wegmans. "We need to ensure packaging is functional and performs as expected, which is key to reducing food waste."

Every year, New Yorkers use about 23 billion plastic bags, according to the governor's office. State officials said the ban will help reduce litter as well as the greenhouse gas emissions linked to making and disposing of plastic bags.

"[F]rom petroleum used to produce the bags to emissions from the transportation of bags to landfills," the governor's office said in a statement.

"We need to stop using plastic bags," Cuomo said. "Today we're putting an end to this blight on our environment."

But the New York Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group, opposes the ban and pointed out that it only affects certain kinds of businesses and not others, such as dry cleaners, restaurants, and pharmacies.

"We agree with the goal of reducing consumption, but we think that could have been achieved with a 5-cent fee on both plastic and paper bags," NYACS president Jim Calvin said in a statement. "The ban, regrettably, means that… convenience stores won't be able to provide the convenience of a plastic bag to customers who legitimately need one."

Two other states—California and Hawaii—have similar bans on plastic bags.