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Cuomo tries again to ban plastic bags, seeks bottle return expansion

ALBANY – The ubiquitous plastic bag, used by consumers to haul home everything from groceries to clothing, would be banned statewide under a plan proposed for the second year in a row by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The governor, in his 2019 budget plan to be delivered to lawmakers Tuesday, will also seek to expand the state’s bottle bill, slapping a nickel redemption fee on many remaining nonalcoholic containers – from sports and fruit drinks to ready-to-drink teas and coffees – that are now not covered by the New York bottle bill.

The governor cited environmental protections, from cleaner waterways to less plastic heading to landfills, for the proposals made Sunday.

“These bold actions to ban plastic bags and promote recycling will reduce litter in our communities, protect our water and create a cleaner and greener New York for all,’’ Cuomo said.

Cuomo last April, when he was facing a Democratic primary challenge, first proposed the plastic bag ban. A year earlier, he blocked a five cents surcharge that New York City had sought to impose on single-use plastic bags.

A number of countries around the world already ban plastic bags or impose surcharges on consumers who use them to take home groceries or other goods. Besides California, which prohibits single-use plastic bags, U.S. jurisdictions with bans or special fees on their use include Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Boston, Chicago, Austin and others. Several counties in New York also ban their use.

A state task force last year estimated New York stores give out 23 billion plastic bags in a year.

The Cuomo administration declined to say when either the plastic bag ban or the new bottle bill expansion would take effect. The administration, which did not provide the precise legislative wording for the plans, also declined to say if the bottle bill expansion would be a revenue-raiser for the state via money from the containers that consumers won’t bother to return to get back their nickels.

The original bottle bill, called the New York State Returnable Container Act, was approved in 1982 and took effect July 1, 1983. It has been amended over the years.

The new Cuomo plan would impose a nickel deposit on sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit and vegetable drinks and ready-to-drink coffee and tea. The law now covers such drinks as beer, carbonated soft drinks and mineral water.

State officials Sunday said there were about 1.4 billion plastic containers sold in New York holding the types of beverages that would be covered by the expansion, according to 2015 data reported to the state tax department. Of that number, about 247 million were sports drinks.

The new Cuomo bottle bill expansion would not cover containers holding such drinks as dairy milk, milk substitutes, infant formula and dietary supplements.

Cuomo also did not propose expanding the bottle bill to cover wine and liquor, which has been exempt since the law’s start. The administration said the state will look to possibly cover such beverages. The bill also does not include coverage of cider products.

Cuomo’s plastic bag ban died in the Legislature last year, chiefly from opposition from Republicans who ran the State Senate. Democrats this month took over the Senate and such environmentally friendly measures such as those proposed by Cuomo on Sunday are seen as being much more likely to get approved. Cuomo also increased the odds by putting the measures into his state budget plan, instead of sending them to lawmakers as stand-alone bills that would be easier to kill.

Legislative leaders did not immediately comment on the two proposals.

But Judith Enck, a former top Environmental Protection Agency official in the Obama administration whose jurisdiction included New York State, said Cuomo needs to also consider a fee on the use of paper bags at places such as grocery stores. She said Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat who chairs the Senate's Environmental Conservation Committee, has already proposed a plastic bag ban and a minimum 10 cents surcharge per paper bag given to consumers at stores.

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