New York

Promoting Plastic Bag Recycling Programs

Last modified on July 13, 2009 by Site Administrator

1 of the 84 billion plastic carryout bags consumed nationwide in 2007 was used in New York City. Legislators responded by approving the New York City Plastic Carryout Bag and Film Plastic Recycling Law in July 2008. The rationale behind recycling programs was clear: to reduce plastic film in landfills by creating the infrastructure for voluntarily in-store recycling programs. The law required all large retailers— with over 5,000 sq. ft. of retail space or 5 branches in the state— to provide in-store bins and contract with private agencies to properly dispose recycled bags.

The New York City Plastic Carryout Bag & Film Plastic Recycling Law was superseded by the passage of the New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse & Recycling Act (Assembly Bill A11725/ Senate Bill 8643-A) in December 2008. Although the city's recycling law is no longer in effect, the New York State Legislature is expected to amend the statewide recycling act. The statewide law requires large retailers— with over 10,000 sq. ft. of retail space or 5 branches in the state— to establish an in-store recycling program, offer reusable bags, and print the message, "Please return to a participating store for recycling" on plastic bags. Since the law went into effect in 2009, New York has been regarded as a leader of the green movement and joins Illinois, Rhode Island, and California in providing statewide access to plastic bag recycling.

Last November, Mayor Bloomberg proposed a 6 cent per-bag fee to large retailers that distribute free plastic bags—a move which city officials estimated would generate $16 million for the city. In February, he knocked a penny off the tax but extended it to all retailers hoping to bring in at least $144 million by 2011. A number of residents expressed concern over the strategic approach of generating revenue from seemingly low fees in order to cover the city’s immense budget deficit. Additional criticism of the proposal was that taxing plastic and not paper would be ineffective because if given a choice, current consumers of plastic bags would likely switch to the free paper alternative before purchasing reusable bags. In June, the Bloomberg administration backed down on the plan to charge a 5-cent fee on shopping bags though recycling programs are still in place.


City Council Passes Bill for Recycling of Plastic Bags from the New York Times, January 10, 2008
An article detailing the City Council's decision to pass a bill requiring large retailers to collect and recycle plastic bags that have been distributed to shoppers.

NY City Council Approves Plastic Bag Recycling Bill, January 14, 2008
Written by an online environmental newspaper, this article looks into New York City's retailer recycling program and its environmental advantages.

NYS Bill May Weaken NYC Plastic Bag Recycling
A sound clip that discusses U.S. plastic bag production and consumption. Addresses the New York City proposal to boot recycling programs.

New York City Plastic Carryout Bag and Film Plastic Recycling Law
The New York City Council ordinance requiring stores with five or more chains within city limits to set up in-store recycling programs for plastic bags and plastic packaging film.

NYC Waste Le$$ website
Website set-up and run by the city of New York whose aim is to give residents helpful information about and resources for responsible waste prevention and recycling.

New York State Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act
New York State proposition that, if passed, would supersede the New York City Council’s recycling program law. The state’s version is not as strict in its regulations and therefore would prove to be less effective, one reason for which many decry its recent passing by the state Assembly.

>For more information, visit our References page