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State, advocates seek public's help to enforce plastic bag ban

Keng Susumpow

Now that New York state has begun enforcement of its plastic bag ban, after an unsuccessful lawsuit by the plastics industry, the state’s environmental agency and an advocacy group want to know whether stores are complying.

Many of the state’s retail chains have already taken steps to eliminate the single-use plastic bags, which were technically banned since March 1 of this year. Some stores are offering paper bags instead, but many are charging a fee to receive the paper bags.

Environmentalists, including former EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck, are relieved that the law is finally being enforced.

“It could not come a day too soon,” Enck said. “New Yorkers use a staggering 23 billion plastic bags every year.”

The bags end up in landfills and as litter.

Enck, who heads Beyond Plastics at Vermont’s Bennington College, has set up space on the group’s websiteto track compliance with the new law, and whether the state Department of Environmental Conservation is diligently enforcing the ban.

The state’s DEC is also asking for the public’s help, to tell them, on its website, if they witness stores violating the law.

The penalty for each violation is $250. That amount would double if there is a second violation in less than a year.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.