Plastic Bags / Belen_Strehl, ShutterstockStarting in October, shoppers in America’s largest city will be charged a nickel for each paper or plastic bag they are given at checkout.

After two years of heated debate, New York’s City Council narrowly passed legislation last week to apply a minimum 5 cent fee on bags. Stores will have the option to charge more if they so choose and will be able to keep the fees when the measure takes effect Oct. 1.

The bill was championed by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who said in a statement the fee policy could reduce paper and plastic bag waste by as much as 60 percent.

“The Council’s legislation strikes the right balance, reducing reliance on single-use bags and incentivizing the use of reusable bags, while safeguarding consumers with some logical exemptions to protect vulnerable New Yorkers,” de Blasio said.

An issue for recycling facilities

Plastic bags have long been identified as a problematic material for operators of materials recovery facilities in the U.S. The bags can tangle in sorting equipment and cause slowdowns in processing.

However, the plastics recycling industry has taken steps to bolster the infrastructure of plastic bag recycling through drop-off locations and other approaches.

The New York Times reported the bag-fee decision in New York was “one of the closest votes in years, with 28 City Council members eventually supporting the measure – just two more than the 26 needed for legislation to pass. Other cities that have passed bag-fee ordinances include Boulder, Colo., Portland, Maine and Washington D.C. A number of local governments have banned plastic shopping bags altogether.

The New York measure, which was opposed by the American Progressive Bag Alliance and other groups, will not affect emergency food providers, such as food pantries and soup kitchens. Those entities will be allowed to continue offering bags without attaching any fee.

Plastic bags for produce will not be subject to the fee either.

The legislation will require the City to report on the impact of the bill in a study to be completed by 2019.

Businesses found to be violating the ordinance will be charged $250 for the first violation and $500 for each subsequent violation.

CP group