Capitol Notes

Judge weighs in on New York’s plastic bag regulations

State regulations implementing broad restrictions on single-use plastic bags in New York were curtailed Thursday by a judge overseeing a lawsuit from a plastic bag manufacturer and New York City bodegas.

While the law restricting plastic bags was upheld, the court threw out the state’s regulations implementing the measure, according to the American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance, which opposed the regulatory effort.

“Unfortunately, we are back where we started, and New York’s bag ban is still broken,” American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance Director Zachary Taylor said in a statement. “If there is one thing that is very clear from the judge’s ruling it’s that New York has an unworkable plastic bag law and it must be fixed.”

“If the state moves forward with enforcing this broken law, businesses that are now spending more on PPE, safety protocols and other COVID-era requirements, could be put in an impossible situation of being required to provide bags they can’t get,” he added.

State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos described the ruling as a “victory” and vindication of the state’s effort to restrict the use of plastic bags in New York. The department, which noted it successfully defended four of the five causes of action brought in the case, is expected to soon provide notice and direction to effected stores regarding the state’s enforcement of the law.

“DEC encourages New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common-sense precautions to keep reusable bags clean,” Seggos said in a statement.

A copy of the ruling is available below.

The plaintiffs argued in their legal challenge that the law adopted in 2019 restricting single-use plastic bags was unconstitutional, conflicted with existing state laws and overly vague. They also challenged the state’s regulations crafted to implement the law, saying they contradicted portions of the Bag Waste Reduction Act and rejected the idea the DEC had the authority to create a definition of exempt reusable bags.

Enforcement of the state’s restrictions on plastic bags was initially delayed past the law’s March 1 implementation date because of the state’s slow roll out of its controversial regulations dictating how the law would take shape. At the behest of the judge overseeing the case against the regulations, further delays were agreed upon between the state and the plaintiffs.

Environmentalists had argued that the state should begin implementing the restrictions prior to the court deciding on the merits of the regulations. During the pandemic, the DEC has continued to educate the public and stores about the law and has been distributing reusable bags.

While many grocery stores around the state utilized plastic bags during the pandemic, some have begun to scale back their use. Price Chopper began phasing out plastic bags at its checkout lines in August.

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