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State expected to ban single-use plastic grocery bags

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    Mike Dufficy, of Ghent, with plastic bags filled with groceries outside ShopRite in Greenport. If passed, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget would ban the bags. Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media
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    Plastic bags caught in the branches of a tree. State lawmakers are considering a ban on the bags. Courtesy of Johnson News Service
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    Most plastic bags, like those used in supermarkets, would be banned in New York state under the current budget plan. Melanie Lekocevic/Columbia-Greene Media
March 29, 2019 01:55 pm Updated: March 29, 2019 01:58 pm

ALBANY — Plastic bags will likely soon be a no-no in New York state.

Lawmakers reached an agreement Friday to impose a statewide ban on most single-use plastic bags from retail sales, a plan first proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo a year ago. If the plan is approved as part of the state budget, the ban would go into effect next year. The vote is expected to take place by Monday.

The decision would make New York the second state in the nation to ban plastic bags in retail stores. California was the first, banning them in 2016. While Hawaii does not have a statewide ban, each county in the state bans the bags.

Mike Dufficy, of Ghent, was loading groceries into his car outside the ShopRite supermarket in Greenport and said he supports the ban in New York.

“I agree with it,” Dufficy said. “There are too many that wind up in fields and blow all over the place.”

Brooklyn resident Eugene Bikhler has a summer home in the area and was visiting Cairo on Friday. He said he thought the ban was a good idea.

“I agree that it should be stopped,” Bikhler said of the plastic bags.

Cuomo proposed the ban as a way of reducing the impact plastic bags have on the environment.

“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 when he first proposed the ban. “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.”

The ban is expected to be part of the state’s budget bills that are under consideration by lawmakers and are expected to be passed by Monday. If they are passed, the ban would go into effect in March 2020.

Jeremy Cherson, legislative advocacy manager for the environmental group Riverkeeper, said the move will be good for the state.

“We are thrilled that the days of the single-use plastic bag are coming to an end in New York,” Cherson said. “This is a huge win for clean water, as every day the plastic-pollution problem worsens.”

If the budget bill is passed within the next couple of days, it would prohibit stores from giving customers single-use plastic bags, which are nonbiodegradable.

Some exceptions would be made, including food takeout bags used by restaurants, bags used to wrap deli or meat-counter products, and bags used for bulk items. Other carve-outs would include trash and recycling bags, garment bags and newspaper bags.

Assemblyman Chris Tague, R-102, said there are bigger issues at hand for the state to work out.

“To be frank, I think the discussion over this ban shows a lack of focus in the budget,” Tague said. “Upstate families are struggling to pay their bills, their taxes are through the roof, and there’s absolutely zero attention paid to them. Instead of talking about banning plastic bags, how about we hammer out making the property tax cap permanent or restoring cuts to veterans’ mental health funding? We have so many things that could help and better people’s lives directly, we shouldn’t be debating over plastic bags.”

Bonnie Osinskie, of Craryville, said a nearby Massachusetts town has implemented the same ban and it has not caused any problems.

“They’ve already done this in Great Barrington,” Osinskie said. “Paper is just as good as plastic. You can recycle it. I don’t have a problem with it.”

The proposed plan also enables counties to opt in to impose a five-cent fee on paper bags.

Assemblyman Jake Ashby, R-107, supports the plastic bag ban, but takes issue with the expense imposed on customers for the paper bags that would replace them.

“I am not opposed to the plastic bag ban in any way, but we should not be adding on an additional fee for the paper bags,” Ashby said.

The goal is to encourage the use of reusable bags, and reduce the number of plastic bags that find their way onto streets and waterways.

“While we advocated hard for a statewide consistent fee on paper bags, if this agreement becomes law, we encourage local governments to opt in to the critical fee on paper to help ensure communities have policies on the books that will encourage consumers to use reusable shopping bags,” Cherson said.

Shoppers who opt to forego paper bags can purchase reusable shopping bags. Lisa Krause, of Saugerties, was in Cairo this week and said the reusable bags are not only environmentally friendly, but also more convenient.

“Even if you didn’t care about the environment or animals, it’s easier,” Krause said. “They carry more things and are more sturdy. [With] plastic bags you can fit like one item per bag and you wind up leaving the store with 30 bags.”

The New York Times contributed to this story.