Frequently Asked Questions About Warwick’s Proposed Law on Carryout Bags
In the last few years, the BYOBag Committee of Sustainable Warwick has circulated a petition to reduce or eliminate plastic bags in the Town of Warwick. More than 1,500 residents of Warwick signed the petition, and now the Town Board is considering a new law on carryout bags, which we believe is an excellent proposal. Understanding the proposed law can be complicated, so we compiled the following Q&A to help out.
Where can I see a copy of the proposed law?
Here’s a link.
When and where are the hearings on the proposed law?
The Town of Warwick holds public hearings on all proposed laws. Hearings for this particular law were already held on February 22 and March 8, 2018. At the March 8 hearing, a citizen raised an important question about whether the law should apply to farmers markets and farm stands, and in response Supervisor Sweeton announced the Town would research an answer to that question and continue the hearing at the next Town Council meeting, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 22, 7:15 PM at Town Hall (132 Kings Highway, Warwick, New York).
What’s the main point of the proposed law?
The proposed new law would add a five (5) cent fee to carryout bags in the Town of Warwick. The fee will apply to all carryout bags, whether paper or plastic. Also, certain stores, certain goods and certain people are exempt from the law.
Which stores are exempt?
Pharmacies or medical offices do not need to charge the fee on bags for carrying medicines. There will also be no fee for dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, or liquor store bags.
Which goods are exempt?
When items are placed in bags without handles to be carried to the cashier, such as for produce, meats, loose baked goods, loose dry goods, and flowers, those bags are exempt from the fee.
Which people are exempt?
Anyone who uses SNAP or WIC benefits to buy groceries does not need to pay for bags.
When will the new law come into effect?
The proposed law was originally supposed to take effect on Earth Day. But the Town Council is considering revisions to the law, and there is presently no announced date for implementation.
Why are they considering this law?
The legislative intent notes that single-use bags, both paper and plastic, have negative environmental and economic impacts. It also clearly states: “The Town finds that imposing a bag fee on the customer can create a shift in consumer behavior toward the use of reusable bags and significantly reduce the amount of carryout bags within our Town.”
Why do we have to change?
A few people — at all income levels — may be upset by this new law, and their concerns are important to take into consideration. But big changes will occur in our environment if we continue using plastic the way we have for the last 50 years. In 1950, there was hardly any plastic on this planet, yet by the year 2050, there may be more plastic in the oceans than fish. Please consider this year’s high school graduates, who will be turning 50 in the year 2050 and will have to deal with a change like that. Which change will be more difficult for us all to deal with?
What if I get a paper bag instead of plastic? Is there a fee on that?
Yes, the same fee applies to paper bags, which also have environmental costs that we would otherwise all absorb. The rule is that any single-use bag comes with a nickel fee. The main role of this fee is to change the question from “do you want paper or plastic?” to a new question: “do you need a bag at all”? In many countries and states, and even in other towns in New York, the result has always been that people take many fewer bags — or even no bags at all — when they have to pay a fee.
Why don’t we just recycle the bags?
Unlike glass or aluminum, plastic cannot be recycled over and over. Even if it is recycled once or twice, it is effectively “downcycled,” because the resultant product tends to be of low quality. Moreover, that recycling procedure is very costly. Because of this, some bags that are collected for recycling are never actually recycled. The percentage of bags that do get recycled in the United States is thought to be under five percent, and there are economic reasons why that number will not rise very much.
Will the money paid for bags go to New York State? Will the Town of Warwick get the money?
No, the money will stay with the retailers. At this time, New York has no laws that would allow a bag fee to go to municipalities, counties, or the state. The fee collection process itself would be a wasteful burden.
What will the retailers do with the bag fees?
Without such a fee, carryout bags are paid for out of overhead, which means the cost is added into every item we buy. When the fee is charged, the cost of the bags will be paid only by the people who need the bags, and the overhead cost for everyone will disappear.
Note that some shopkeepers in Warwick pay more than 5 cents per carryout bag, and all shopkeepers will still need to provide free bags to customers using SNAP and WIC benefits.
In the end, some shopkeepers may end up with a profit of 2 or 3 cents per bag, but they have committed to providing re-usable bags to customers and continuing their other contributions to our community.
Although the money will stay with the shopkeepers, please keep in mind society will benefit in many other ways from the greatly reduced number of bags that result from the fee. This includes less waste of natural resources, lower public health costs, less pollution, and reduced landfill burdens.
How will low income people cope with this?
The proposed law clearly says anyone using SNAP benefits or WIC benefits to buy their groceries does not need to pay for carryout bags. However, in other places with similar laws, most people find it works out well for them, even low-income residents. See, for example, the survey done in Washington, DC, after a similar fee on carryout bags had been in effect for three years. Financially challenged people can always avoid the bag fees by bringing their own bags. Also, from time to time the stores will make reusable bags available for free or at a very reduced price.
What if I have other questions about Warwick’s proposed new bag law?
Feel free to contact us at BYOBagWarwick@gmail.com.