The bill went into effect on March 1, 2020, and yet there is still mass confusion about the legislation. The law gives authority to each municipality (county or city) to impose a mandatory 5 cent fee on paper bags or not. In absence of a mandated fee (as in the case of Westchester), individual retailers may choose to charge a fee or not. Some stores will not offer paper bags at all, requiring their shoppers to either bring their own bags or purchase reusable shopping totes from the store. Other stores have been offering free store branded totes when shoppers recycle their plastic bags at that location or have been giving the proceeds of the sale of their branded bags to Environmental organizations. Over the next few months, we expect a multitude of educational campaigns to be launched at a grassroots level.

People have been calling it the “plastic bag ban”, but the actual name of the legislation is the “Bag Waste Reduction Law“.  As the name suggests, it is important to note that the legislation is not intended to simply replace plastic bags with paper bags. The fact is there’s not enough paper to fill that demand. It is estimated the state could require up to 4 billion bags. Yet paper bags have an even larger environmental footprint to produce  than single use plastic bags (other environmental hazards of single use plastic notwithstanding) and they also cost more than 5 to 7 times more. So for the sake of the environment, New Yorkers are being challenged to change carry their own reusable bags wherever they go.

Some basics of the new law: 

  • Prohibits the distribution of plastic carry out bags from a person/entity required to charge sales tax 
  • Specific plastic bags for exempt items such as: produce, fish, deli, bulk items and prescriptions may still be distributed 
  • Shoppers may bring and reuse their own bags of any type (including plastic) 
  • Stores will still be required to collect plastic bags for recycling 
  • In municipalities which require a fee for paper bags, persons shopping with certain food assistant programs (the supplemental nutritional assistance program, special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants and children, or any successor programs used as full or partial payment for the items purchased) will be exempt from paying the fee

For more information and other resources visit