New Yorkers will have to start paying for plastic bags this fall

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City Council Votes On Plastic Bags

As expected, New York's City Council passed a bill today will add a five-cent surcharge onto paper and plastic bags at supermarkets and shops in an effort to reduce waste and encourage customers to bring their own bags from home instead. It was all but guaranteed to pass once City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said last week that she'd back it. The bill, which also had the support of Mayor de Blasio, passed by a 28–20 vote and will take effect on October 1.

An earlier version of the bill had called for a ten-cent fee, but the final bill will tack on a nickel for each bag. The stores themselves will keep the five cents. The bill is based on similar laws in places like Washington, D.C., and California. There are a few exceptions to the surcharge, for things like the thin bags used for meat and produce, and bags for medication at pharmacies. Takeout bags from restaurants or street vendors also won't be affected, nor will bags from state-regulated liquor stores and purchases made with food stamps.

The mayor said in a radio interview last week that a reduction in the use of plastic bags will be good for the environment. "I think it'll change the behavior quickly and not hit people's pocketbooks in any meaningful way," he said.

Indeed, the fee is designed to be a sort of nuisance to encourage New Yorkers to bring their own bags. Said Councilman Brad Lander, a sponsor of the bill: "The fee is irritating, which is precisely why it works."

And if nothing else, the increased use of reusable bags might help cut down on one of New York's great scourges: bags annoyingly stuck in trees.

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