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Plastic bags are banned: Here’s how it will all unfold

New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have agreed to a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags and a fee on the use of paper bags.

Here’s what the you need to know about the deal in the state budget.

When does this ban take effect?

The ban will take effect in about 11 months, March 1 of next year. This will presumably give retailers and shoppers enough time to shift away from plastic bags and begin to offer and use bags that are considered multiple use.

Are any plastic bags exempt?

Yes. Budget language made public Thursday evening shows a number of plastic bag ban exemptions, including bags use to contain uncooked meat or fish, bags used to package bulk items like fruit, vegetables, grains or candy, bags used to deliver newspapers to subscribers and bags use in bulk at the point of sale.

Trash bags are also exempt as are food storage and garment bags. The plastic carryout bags used by a restaurant or pub as well as bags used to carry prescription drugs will not be covered by the new law.

What is the fee for paper bags?

Shoppers will be charged five cents for each paper bag they use. Out of that, three cents will be put toward the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. The other two cents will go toward a local government.

Can the fee be avoided?

In part, yes. A local government, such as a county government, must affirmatively opt in to receive the revenue from the fee. People who receive support from the supplemental nutritional assistance program, or SNAP, are also exempt from the fee — an attempt to satisfy concerns the fee is considered a “regressive” tax.

What kind of bags can be used?

The budget defines reusable bags as those that are “made of cloth or other machine washable fabric that has handles” or a “durable bag with handles that is specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuse.”

Why is this happening?

Environmental groups have long pushed for a ban on single-use plastic bags, worried that their proliferation is contributing to water and ground pollution as well as choking marine wildlife. Several local governments have moved in recent years to ban plastic bags and install a fee on paper bag usage. New York City attempted a plastic bag fee that state lawmakers and the governor ultimately reversed. Cuomo later created a commission to determine the best method for addressing the issue statewide.

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