Updated: Mar 23
Here’s what small business owners need to know about exceptions to the ban and how to provide alternatives to the single-use plastic bag.
Following a seven month pause, the New York plastic bag ban was reinstated for retailers statewide on October 19, 2020. The ban first went into effect in early March 2020 in an effort to reduce the estimated 23 billion plastic bags used annually by New York residents and take positive steps toward the reduction of plastic waste and pollution.
While the ban was first instituted in March after years of effort from environmentalist groups like the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force, it saw an immediate delay due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on retailers across the state, in addition to a lawsuit by, among others, plastic bag manufacturers. Now, retailers face a potential fine if they are found distributing single-use plastic bags.
The ban, forbidding the use of non-reusable plastic bags applies to any "person required to collect tax" as defined in New York state tax law, including small businesses like independent grocers, bodegas, restaurants, and more that have faced unforeseeable obstacles during the pandemic.
There are some exceptions to the ban:
Restaurants and eateries that offer take-out dining options may pack these orders in plastic bags for pick-up or delivery.
Plastic bags can be used for items like raw meat, seafood, and other unwrapped food, flowers, or plants at certain retailers.
Newspapers can still be wrapped in plastic as protection from outdoor elements.
Pharmacies may provide plastic bags to carry prescription drugs.
How to handle leftover stock of plastic bags
If a small business has an existing stock of single-use plastic bags, the DEC (The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation) encourages them to donate these bags to non-profit organizations, such as food banks or food pantries. If the bags are unable to be donated, retailers are asked to responsibly recycle the bags via film plastic recycling.
What small businesses can offer instead
Small businesses are now faced with new challenges to ensure their customers have a positive shopping experience in their place of business. While retailers are not legally obligated to provide bags, here are some alternatives for single-use plastic bags in small businesses:
Encourage customers to BYOB (bring your [their] own bag) before shopping.
Provide reusable, eco-friendly or sustainable bagging options for purchase.
Retailers may also provide paper bags for a non-taxable 5-cent fee.
The newly reinstated ban faces criticism from retailers statewide as they express the difficulty of adjusting quickly and efficiently during these unprecedented times. If small businesses are struggling to accommodate the ban in their place of business, they should stay current on news surrounding the ban as there may be future pauses ahead; however, we encourage businesses of all sizes to continue implementing environmentally friendly practices in their businesses.
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