County braces for state ban on plastic bags in March

Julie Lewis | The Daily StarA container to recycle plastic bags is seen in a local store Monday.

The state ban on plastic bags for most commercial uses will go into effect Sunday, March 1, and like most counties in New York, Otsego County will not opt in on an accompanying 5 cent fee on paper bags. 

The law bans plastic bag use in any commercial establishments that collect sales tax, with exceptions for restaurants, the safeguarding of raw meats, poultry, fish, seafoods and sliced foods, for holding bulk items, for trash bags and for newspaper deliveries, among other things. It was designed to help the environment by cutting down on plastic use, and also to encourage the use of reusable bags.

Because studies have shown paper bag use increases substantially after plastic bag bans, the law allows cities and counties to opt in on charging the fee for paper bags. New York City and several Long Island and Hudson Valley counties opted in, but most other counties decided not to mandate the paper-bag fee. 

The Otsego County Board of Representatives considered opting in last year, but tabled a measure to do so in November. The matter has continued to generate discussion in the board's Solid Waste and Environment Concerns Committee, but board members acknowledged last week at their February meeting at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown that the law would go into effect without Otsego County opting in. 

SWEC Committee Chair Keith McCarty (R-Richfield, Springfield) told the board Wednesday, Feb. 6, that the county is waiting to see what changes are made to the state law before it goes into effect. In November, the representatives decried the way the law was written, including the state mandate that the bag fee must go to purchasing and distributing reusable bags, especially to economically disadvantaged communities. McCarty said the county has continued to stress to state officials that it would be more likely to opt in if the money could go to the county's high recycling costs. 

The city of Oneonta and Otsego's neighboring counties also decided not to opt in on the paper bag charge. 

However, most of the local grocery stores have indicated they will start charging 5 cents for paper bags in lieu of municipal laws. Price Chopper, Topps and Hannaford have all announced this year that they will begin charging for paper bags in March. Aldi already charged a fee for bags. Most of the stores have also increased their supplies of reusable bags for sale. 

McCarty told the board he thought that businesses charging bag fees was a better option than county or city governments doing the same thing via the state law. 

"That is the same purpose, only the state is staying out of it," he said. "To me, that is a good thing."

McCarty also said the county's first load of glass bottles has been taken to Andela Products in Herkimer County from the Northern Transfer Station near Cooperstown.

"Our glass recycling at the Northern Transfer Station has been successful," McCarty said. "Let's hope it keeps going." 

County Planner Trainee Shane Digan told the Daily Star in a follow-up email exchange the county has saved money by separating out the glass. Taking the weighty glass products out of the single-stream recycling makes recycling much less expensive for the county, he said. 

"The container had 3.2 tons and we paid $175 to have it moved, meaning we paid only $54.69/ton, which is an immense savings," Digan said. 



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