A group of southern Brooklyn legislators are calling for the indefinite suspension of the statewide ban on single-use plastic bags — claiming that reusable bags are more likely to spread the novel coronavirus.
“Researchers have been warning the public about the health risks associated with reusable bags for years, but their cautions fell on deaf ears,” said Councilman Chaim Deutsch, whose district includes the areas of Brighton Beach, Midwood, and Sheepshead Bay. “Now, as we as a state are directly impacted by a fast-spreading virus, it’s finally time to take this seriously.”
The ban was passed into law last spring, but only went into effect earlier this month. On March 16, however, the state Department of Environmental Conservation announced that the plastic bag ban — which also imposes a 5-cent fee for paper bags in New York City — would not be enforced until May 15, after it had been initially postponed to April 1.
Three Borough Park lawmakers — Councilman Kalman Yeger, State Senator Simcha Felder, and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein — have joined Deutsch in the push for executive action by Governor Andrew Cuomo, hoping that the public will either return to using disposable bags or frequently wash their reusable bags.
“Suggesting that New Yorkers should reuse bags of any kind is the height of irresponsibility,” Yeger said. “During this public health crisis, I urge the Governor to use his immense executive power to indefinitely suspend the ban on plastic bags, and to permit businesses to distribute unused bags of any kind – plastic or paper – to consumers, at no cost to the consumer.”
This isn’t the first time these same lawmakers have opposed the plastic bag ban, however — as they opposed the initial switch to reusable bags prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, citing concerns about regulation, and the undue burden they said it would inflict on shoppers.
On Wednesday, Yeger tweeted an article about the threat of infection surrounding reusable bags.
“WORTH A READ — and why I voted against the #bagban & #bagtax,” he tweeted. “This stupid policy is going to kill people.”
Greening Our Way to Infection https://t.co/wYbFevSl2K
— Kalman Yeger ונשמרתם מאד לנפשותיכם (@KalmanYeger) March 18, 2020
Felder — who was absent for the State Senate vote on the ban — introduced legislation back in 2017 to thwart the City Council bill implementing a 5-cent ban for plastic bags in the five boroughs. In an interview with the New York Times, he described the fee as an effort to “shake [shoppers] down every time they shop just for the privilege of using a plastic bag.”
Deutsch told Brooklyn Paper he believes consumers should have the choice to be environmentally conscious instead of imposing an increased cost on “millions of hardworking New Yorkers who can’t afford to indulge this,” while Eichenstein described the statewide plastic bag ban as “misguided” and “disastrous” in a statement.
Before the delays in its enforcement, many New Yorkers commended the measure to curb down the state’s plastic usage, including those at the frontlines such as deli and bodega owners.
“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.”
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos tweeted on March 12 that the plastic bag ban would not be suspended and suggested washing reusable bags as a regular practice of good hygiene.
“Folks, if you are concerned about the cleanliness of your reusable bag, please consider washing it — as you wash clothes or hands,” he tweeted. “It’s good hygiene anyway. New Yorkers are pleased with the bag ban and have no interest in a return to polluting ways.”