Environment Column

Throwing environmental side effects out the window, Cuomo prevents passage of plastic bag tax bill in New York City

A global plastic epidemic is upon us, but some New York state officials are distressed about the hassle of citizens needing to bring reusable bags to the grocery store.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently prevented the passage of a law that would tax people for using plastic bags in New York City. Cuomo said he felt the bill was “deeply flawed” and that the environmental issue should be addressed at a state level, and not strictly enforced within the city’s limits, according to The New York Times.

Cuomo said the tax would result in $100 million going straight to private businesses, and he feels this alone is enough to ban the bill, according to The Times. Other opponents of the bill also argue that the tax would burden millions of struggling New York City residents. New Yorkers who are enrolled in government aid programs, including the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program, will be exempt from the tax, but everyone else is fair game. Cuomo is right to be concerned about the effects this bill might have had on low-income New Yorkers, but he is missing the point.

While his point that businesses should not receive the 5-cent tax was legitimate, the way Cuomo handled the situation was irresponsible. The New York City Department of Sanitation collects 10 billion single-use bags each year, according to its website. Of course most other major cities around the world also produce obscene amounts of plastic waste, but Cuomo shouldn’t add to New York City’s irreparable damage.

“Cuomo blocking New York City’s progressive plastic bag ban is a step backward,” said Robert Wilson, a professor of geography at Syracuse University. “Other states, such as California, as well as countries such as Ireland and Germany have banned plastic bags with few negative consequences for consumers. In those places, shoppers just bring their own bags. Doing so is now part of the culture.”

According to research published in the Public Library of Science Journal, there are currently at least 5.25 trillion plastic particles in Earth’s oceans. These plastic bags majorly contribute to the 268,940 tons of plastic floating in the sea, meaning one of the biggest victims of Cuomo’s postponement of the bag tax is marine life.

Plastic bags floating in the ocean are often mistaken for jellyfish, and when marine animals ingest them, the plastic can choke or poison them. Some estimates suggest that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050. Toxic plastic particles have been found in fish, and the effect this has on humans is yet to be fully understood.

It seems unlikely, but Cuomo has passionate backers. The American Progressive Bag Alliance advocates against plastic bag taxes across the United States. The organization created a website, bagthetaxnyc.com, to debunk “myths” on why plastic bags are bad for the environment. The organization is also based at the same address as the Plastics Industry Association in Washington, D.C. So, it’s tough to assume that Cuomo has New Yorkers’ best interest at heart when some of his biggest supporters are directly tied to the plastic industry.

Cuomo’s decision to ban the plastic bag tax is close-minded and of shallow consideration. There is too much science-backed information to only think about how laws will affect matters in the next 10 to 20 years.

Yes, giving New Yorkers short-term satisfaction may give you more political points, but postponing this plastic bill is ultimately a disservice to them and the environment they inhabit. And higher government needs to face the facts that current U.S. consumption is making the future of our planet bleaker.

Lydia Niles is a freshman public relations major with minors in environment and society and political science. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at lnilesst@syr.edu and followed on Twitter @Lydia__Niles.

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