Assemblyman Colton: “Ban Harmful Plastic Grocery Bags in New York State”

April 9, 2007

Following the city of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors’ recent ban on check-out plastic grocery bags, which can make it the first U.S. city to adopt such a rule, New York State Assemblyman William Colton (D-Brooklyn) is introducing similar legislation in the New York Assembly that would widen the scope of such a ban from a single municipality to an entire state. The Brooklyn lawmaker is introducing legislation that would ban large retail stores from using harmful check-out plastic grocery bags, aiming to make New York the first state in the nation to adopt such sweeping environmental policy.

“If we in government truly want to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil, reduce the consumption of our natural resources, reduce landfill waste, reduce the amount of litter on our streets, and reduce the amount of damage done to our wildlife and environment, then New York State should kiss goodbye harmful check-out plastic grocery bags,” said Assemblyman Colton. “I believe this important legislation should apply not only to New York City, but rather throughout the entire State of New York,” Colton went on to say.

The Brooklyn legislator’s bill would mirror the San Francisco ban by requiring large retail stores to offer customers bags made of recyclable paper, recyclable plastic that can be broken down into compost, or reusable fabric. Currently, most plastic bags used in the United States are not biodegradable and are at the center of many serious environmental concerns.

Most traditional plastic grocery bags are petroleum oil based. According to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors’ estimates, the ban on plastic grocery bags will save the U.S. from purchasing over 450,000 gallons of petroleum oil a year. Apply that statistic to a statewide ban in New York, the number of gallons of oil saved significantly increases.

Aside from decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and reducing consumption of natural resources, Colton points to other serious environmental hazards posed by plastic bags. Planet Ark, an international environmental group, estimates that over 100,000 whales, seals, turtles, and other marine animals are killed by plastic bag entanglements each year worldwide. Additionally, a recent waste study conducted in San Francisco estimated that the ban of checkout plastic bags would remove nearly 1,400 tons of waste from the city’s landfills. “The amount of waste that can be removed from New York’s waste stream with the banning of plastic grocery bags can be tremendous,” asserted Colton.

Colton plans to work extensively in the legislature and with large retailers to get his legislation passed. Addressing concerns raised by San Francisco’s retail industry during the ban process, Colton is pointing to nations like Great Britain and Belgium. Retailers there offer biodegradable bags made up of various vegetable starches that turn into compost and cost no more than petroleum-based plastic bags. “We need the large retailers to be responsible corporate citizens in this effort. The goal of this legislation is to protect the general public, businesses, environment, wildlife, and the vitality of our planet from harmful products. Through working with my colleagues in government and with the retail industry, I hope we’re all on the same page in this effort,” Colton noted.

Countries that have banned or taken similar action to discourage the use of plastic bags include Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Britain, Ireland, Italy, and South Africa.

If passed by the New York Assembly and Senate, the bill would require the signature of Governor Eliot Spitzer. If passed and signed, New York stands to become the first state in the nation to adopt such a measure.