ITHACA, N.Y. –– State-wide legislation is set to go into effect later this month banning single-use plastic shopping bags.

The new law, which was meant to be put into place back in March, was delayed due to an industry lawsuit. Ultimately, the law was upheld by the New York State Supreme Court, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced that it will begin enforcing the law and its regulations on Oct. 19.

Despite the delay in enforcement, some major companies have already ceased using plastic bags.

“Most of the big companies like Wegmans and GreenStar saw the writing on the wall,” said Thomas Shelley, president of Sustainable Tompkins. He continued that, “(but) there are some vendors that have continued using plastic bans that will have to stop.”

At the time the law was initially passed, Tompkins County Legislature passed an accompanying local law to charge 5-cents for paper bags distributed at local retailers. That law, which is meant to incentives the repeated use of durable, reusable bags, has been effect in the county since March.

The fee does not apply to recipients of SNAP and WIC, and part of the revenue from the paper bag fee is used towards distributing reusable bags to lower income residents. According to Shelley, almost $6,700 has been raised to purchase new reusable bags so far.

The “Bag Waste Reduction Law,” as it’s called, prohibits the distribution of plastic carryout bags by anyone required to collect New York State sales tax. More information about the law can be found at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website.

For those businesses that do not comply with the bag ban, DEC warns that legal action can be taken against them. Warnings for initial violations will be given.

As the new law takes effect, the DEC is encouraging New Yorkers to take common sense precautions to keep their reusable bags clean including keeping meat, fish or poultry, fresh produce, and ready-to-eat foods in separate bags to reduce the spread of germs. Reusable bags should be washed regularly. The New York State Department of Health provides best practices for cleaning your reusable bag on their website.

Local businesses with questions can contact Tompkins Recycling and Materials Management online or via phone at (607) 273-6632.

Photo by Jacob Mroczek.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com