Baggin’ it: Brooklyn businesses prepare for plastic bag ban

Mused Algamoos and Richy Saidi of the Skyline Gourmet deli ordered a load of new paper bags to replace the old plastic ones.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Ahead of the state’s ban on single-use plastic bags on March 1, Downtown Brooklyn businesses and shoppers are preparing for the sweeping changes with mixed feelings.

The ban will make it illegal for nearly all people or businesses who collect state sales tax to distribute carry-out plastic bags, and the city will require retailers to collect a five cent fee for paper bags from all customers — except for the beneficiaries of food assistance programs, who are exempt from the fee. To further move away from single-use packaging, the city will force sellers to provide reusable bags for sale. 

The new law aims to cut back on the more than 10 billion single-use plastic bags New York City residents use every year, which harm the environment and costs the city government $12 million annually to dispose of. 

One Downtown deli manager said it’s about time the government step up to the task of cutting back on the waste.

“One step is better than no step — even if it’s a small step, I think we’re heading in the right direction,” said Mused Algamoos, who runs Skyline Gourmet on the corner of Willoughby and Lawrence streets. “I think it’s good for the environment, I’m all for it.”

A limited number of items will be exempt from the ban, such as uncooked animal products and loose foods for hygiene reasons or prescription drugs at pharmacies for privacy.

Brooklyn has been at the epicenter of the effort to curb plastic bags since Park Slope Councilman Brad Lander first proposed similar legislation in 2013 — but the move was held up by resistance among state lawmakers, before Governor Andrew Cuomo eventually signed a state bill making Lander’s proposal redundant.

In response to the pending rule change, Algamoos and the corner shop’s owner, Richy Saidi, have stopped ordering the traditional black plastic bags and switched to paper versions with handles, the merchant said.

But the manager of a Court Street hardware store was more skeptical of the ban, saying that officials are punishing small businesses by making them shoulder the cost.

“We can charge them five cents, but the bag is going to cost us 30 cents,” said Sal Licata of Bruno’s Home Center between Livingston and Schermerhorn streets. “What’s going to happen, I’m going to make the customer pay for it with a higher price.”


Sal Licata of Bruno’s Home Center is skeptical of the ban.Photo by Kevin Duggan

Some business operators weren’t fully aware that their stores had to comply with the law change, such as the manager of the clothing emporium Jimmy Jazz on the Fulton Mall, who said that he would continue using their large plastic bags in spite of the ban.

“I heard it was going to affect grocery stores, but I didn’t know it was going to affect any other stores,” said Kelsey Ferdinand.

But retailers that violate the law will only face a warning for their first violation, followed by a $250 for their second infraction, and then $500 for every time they break rules in the same calendar year thereafter.

City officials are encouraging New Yorkers to get reusable bags and the Sanitation Department is offering free flashy orange bags that fold into a pouch and are made from 90% recycled materials for anyone that takes a so-called “Zero Waste Pledge” online.

Brooklynites have been sporting their own reusable bags for years, including one Bay Ridgite who said the law won’t stifle business.

“It’s not going to affect business because people still need to shop,” said Kelly Davis. “People need to get over it and just carry their own bags.”