New York City should follow England’s example, charge for plastic bags

Adnan Zarif, Staff Writer

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.


Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.

Adnan Zarif is studying away at NYU London. Email him at [email protected]



  1. While saying you want to steer NYC to a greener lifestyle is all well and good, but most people of low income means depend upon plastic bags, often reusing them after getting them from the store. If plastic bags were charged, especially at so high a rate, many people who struggle with making ends meet and rely on food stamps to survive, counting every penny, would not be able to afford the food they need, just so that they can plastic or reusable bags to take home their food. If you want to make NYC a greener place, replace plastic bags with biodegradable bags or offer paper bags only. Have the city spend money in making the NYC. A greener place, not the customer.

  2. They should follow Califonia’s lead and just ban plastic bags entirely. It’s 2015. How on Earth has NYC not banned plastic bags yet???
    Building upon the last comment, stores should offer the option of selling reusable and/or biodegradable bags that low-income customers could reuse for long periods of time.
    It seems almost common sense that in a city where stores and markets are so accessible from a walking distance that reusable (ex: tote bags) would be more commonplace.
    Even people in poorer countries do this!


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