File photo: Denise Civiletti

New York’s plastic bag ban, which went into effect March 1, but remained unenforced due to pending litigation, will be enforced starting Monday.

The State Department of Environmental Conservation will begin enforcement of the ban on single-use plastic carryout bags on Oct. 19, the agency announced in a press release.

The state delayed enforcement under an agreement with parties in a lawsuit challenging the ban in State Supreme Court.

The court in August dismissed the lawsuit, which was brought by a manufacturer of single-use plastic carryout bags and New York retailers that distribute the bags.

The court also ruled that certain regulations promulgated by the DEC authorized an exemption to the plastic bag ban that was not provided by statute and as such were invalid. The DEC regulations created an exemption for “reusable” plastic bags that was not authorized by the Bag Reduction Act enacted by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2019.

After the Aug. 20 ruling, the DEC agreed to provide the parties and the court at least 30 days notice prior to commencing enforcement of the ban. It gave notice on Sept. 18.

The new state law, passed last year to help reduce plastic waste — bans the distribution of plastic carryout bags by any vendor required to collect New York State sales tax. (Tax-exempt sales are included in the ban.) The law allows distribution of paper bags, upon payment of a 5-cent fee.

There are limited exemptions to the plastic bag ban. These include bags:

  • used solely to contain or wrap uncooked meat, fish, seafood, poultry, like the plastic film bags available at most supermarket meat cases;
  • used solely to contain food sliced or prepared to order;
  • used for newspaper delivery to a subscriber.
  • Also exempt are plastic bags sold as trash bags, food storage bags, garment bags (such as those used by a dry cleaner or laundry service), bags provided by a restaurant or similar food service establishment to carry out or deliver prepared food and bags provided by pharmacies to carry prescription drugs. (See state regulations finalized earlier this month.)

More information for consumers is provided by the State DEC on its website.

The law was the culmination of a process begun by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2017 with the creation of the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force, chaired by DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. It aims to reduce the amount of plastic bag waste generated in New York, where an estimated 23 billion plastic bags are used annually—each for about 12 minutes — and approximately 85% of this total ends up in landfills, recycling machines, waterways, and streets, according to the report.

The New York Post reported Oct. 11 that retailers and the plastic bag manufacturer involved in the previous lawsuit had filed a new lawsuit in State Supreme Court on Friday, Oct. 9, accusing the DEC of “flip-flopping” in new rules issued that “flout” the August court decision. There is no record yet of the lawsuit in the state court system’s online database, so the complaint in the case is not yet available for public review.

The DEC has not formally amended the regulations it promulgated pursuant to the Bag Reduction Act, nor are any amendments pending, according to a search of the N.Y. State Register, where proposed regulatory changes are published. The agency issued a statement that the provisions of its regulations declared invalid by the court — the exemption for “reusable” non-film plastic bags — will not be enforced.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.