New York City mayor handing out free reusable bags ahead of plastic bag ban

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio distributed reusable bags Friday afternoon ahead of the statewide ban on plastic bags that takes effect March 1.

The event was held at 1 p.m. in Union Square Park.

"We only have one chance to save our planet," de Blasio said. "Reducing the use of plastic bags will help us create a more sustainable city. New Yorkers: Don't forget to bring your reusable bag to shop starting on March 1, and if you need a bag, we've got you."

The Department of Sanitation has distributed more than 800,000 free reusable bags since 2016, including some 200,000 bags in the last two months alone.

The bags have been made available at specific bag giveaways, at community events, through elected officials and community boards, from community groups and to residents taking the Zero Waste Pledge, among other venues. Residents interested in getting a bag should visit nyc.gov/bags.

It was estimated by the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force that New York residents use 23 billion plastic bags every year, and many times, they end up in waterways and landfills or littering trees. They can also harm wildlife.

The new law will be enforced by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and businesses that violate the law will get a warning for their first violation.

After a warning, businesses will be fined $250. Violations after that in the same calendar year will carry a penalty of $500.

As part of the ban, counties were given the opportunity to opt into a 5 cent fee for paper bags. So far, New York City, Suffolk County, Tompkins County and Ulster County have announced the fee per bag.

Two cents of the fee will go back to local governments to spend on programs to distributing reusable bags to low income residents.

The remaining three cents will go to the state's Environmental Protection Fund, to spend on the environment.

Those who receive SNAP or WIC benefits will be exempt from the fee.

There are several types of bags that are exempt to the ban:

--Those used solely to contain or wrap uncooked, fish, or poultry
--Those used by a customer solely to package bulk items such as fruits, vegetables, grains, or candy
--Those used solely to contain food sliced or prepared to order
--Those used solely to contain a newspaper for delivery to a subscriber
--Those sold in bulk to a consumer at the point of sale, such as garbage bags or sandwich bags
--Those used by a dry-cleaner or laundry service
--Those provided by a restaurant to carry out or deliver food
--Those provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs

Governor Andrew Cuomo acknowledged there will be a hardship period for stores when the ban begins and stressed the state is not looking to issue fines.

For more information on the New York State Bag Waste Reduction Law, visit DEC.NY.gov.

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