England instituted a new law earlier this month that requires all large shops to charge five pence — eight cents — for all single-use plastic bags. The law only applies to retailers with at least 250 employees and is expected to benefit the English economy by over $1 billion — 780 million pounds. New York City used over 5.2 billion bags in 2014, a majority of which ended up in landfill. Both the economy and environment are in a position to benefit by following England’s lead and charging for plastic bags.
It is noteworthy that the charge is not a tax, as the money does not go to the government. Retailers are allowed to choose what they do with the added revenue, but they must report what they spend the money on and the government suggests they donate the money to charity. There is no charge on paper bags or bags distributed on airports or train stations. Furthermore, bags for items in which there is a food safety risk — raw meat, medicines or plants — will not be charged. The British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that the tax will reduce the use of plastic bags in supermarkets by as much as 80 percent. England is actually the last country in the U.K. to tax plastic bags, and the measure has proven to be extremely effective as within the last three years. Wales has seen plastic bag consumption reduced by 70 percent.
New York City is of similar magnitude to London, and has just as much to gain from a tax on plastic bags, if not more so. Plastic bags are a significant and costly burden to the environment as well as to the city itself. A spokesperson from Sim’s recycling, a company New York City contracts for curbside recycling, said “We have literally millions of dollars of equipment for the sole purpose of getting plastic bags away from the recyclables that we want.” Additionally, Antonio Reynoso, chairman of New York state’s Sanitation Committee called plastic bags, “an absolute nightmare” for the sanitation system. Clearly, it is time the situation was rectified and the amount of plastic bags was reduced. There are concerns about the extra charge being a burden for New Yorkers who are already struggling to make ends meet, but the purpose of the charge isn’t actually to make New Yorkers pay more every time they go shopping. It is to steer the city towards a greener mindset and allow the people to take responsibly for the health of their city.
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Adnan Zarif is studying away at NYU London. Email him at [email protected]