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building a movement to end plastic pollution

May 27, 2020

Commissioner Basil Seggos
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
625  Broadway
Albany, New York  12233

Dear Commissioner Seggos:

Thank you for your public service during the covid-19 crisis.  We also extend our thanks to the professional staff at the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for their hard work during this difficult time. 

As regions throughout the state begin to re-open, it is important that we work for a cleaner and more sustainable future. To that end, we urge the DEC to do three things without delay:

1.       Take steps to enforce the statewide plastic bag ban, which took effect on March 1, 2020.

2.      Inform supermarkets that they should not prohibit consumers from using reusable bags.

3.      Inform stores that they need to resume the redemption of all 5-cent beverage container deposits.

Plastics Bags

According to the DEC, New Yorkers use a staggering 23 billion plastic bags each year. Plastic bags take over 500 years to break down, harming fish and other wildlife and clogging machinery at recycling facilities.

New York was off to a good start when the plastic bag ban took effect on March 1 as many customers were bringing their own reusable bags. But when a Long Island-based plastic bag company sued the state to block the ban, DEC agreed to an initial 30-day delay on implementation. Then the health crisis hit and DEC extended the enforcement of the law twice, pushing the deadline for enforcement until June 15, 2020. 

We strongly urge you not to unnecessarily extend the deadline any further but to put stores on notice that the DEC now anticipates they will soon be required to comply. We also urge you to educate the public that the existing law will soon go into effect.

This can be done in a way that protects the health of grocery store workers who may have concerns that consumers are not using clean reusable bags.  Customers can be asked to pack their own groceries when they bring in their own bags, as the California Department of Industrial Relations Division of Occupational Safety and Health recommends.

Reusable Bags Are Safe and Cost-Effective

Banning plastic bags to merely shift to paper bags is not the most environmentally sound option. Paper bags are more expensive than plastic bags, costing stores more money.  Instead, the DEC needs to return to supporting the use of reusable bags and inform stores that they cannot prohibit customers from using their own reusable bags.

There have been reports that some stores are prohibiting customers from using reusable bags, though such policies vary week by week. While some grocery workers are concerned about contracting the virus through contact with reusable bags, the Center for Disease Control recently amended their website to make clear that touching surfaces is not a significant mode of transmitting the virus. There is also no scientific evidence that reusable bags spread covid- 19. The covid-19 virus appears to spread mainly from person-to-person when individuals are in close contact with one another, through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. 

Consumers can be urged to wash their reusable bags and can be asked to pack their own groceries, if they are able.

We request that the DEC inform stores that they cannot prohibit people from using their own reusable bags.

The Return of the “Bottle Bill”

In 1982, the NYS Legislature adopted one of the most sweeping and effective environmental laws in the history of the state. A simple mandatory nickel deposit on certain beverage containers has resulted in cleaner communities, better quality recyclables, and the creation of jobs. It is also an important source of revenue for many New Yorkers who are struggling economically.

Containers that have beverage deposits achieve a substantially higher recycling rate than containers that are recycled through municipal recycling programs. According to the Container Deposit Institute:

  • Aluminum cans with deposits achieve a recycling rate of 78%. Without deposits, the recycling rate is only 36%.
  • PET plastic bottles with deposits achieve a recycling rate of 59%. Without deposits, the recycling rate is only 14%.
  • Glass bottles with deposits achieve a recycling rate of 64%. Without deposits, the recycling rate is only 14%.

Many consumers, having already paid the five-cent deposit and are stockpiling returnable containers at home. Social distancing must be established at the container return areas at stores, just as it has been done at check-out lines.

As New York State Reopens, We Must Renew Our Commitment To The Environment

At the start of the pandemic, we understood that certain issues needed to be put on the back burner. But it is now time to again enforce the plastic bag ban and the bottle bill in order to ensure the myriad of environmental benefits they provide.

9 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year. In the next decade, there will be one pound of plastic in the ocean for every three pounds of fish. Plastics are now made from a byproduct of fracking. There are microplastic particles in the air we breathe and the food we eat. We need to be able to address the plastic pollution problem and boost recycling, while also working for a healthy and sustainable economic recovery from this health crisis.

We look forward to hearing from you on these important matters.  Thank you.

Sincerely,

Judith EnckBeyond Plastics
Eric GoldsteinNatural Resources Defense Council
Bill RitchieAlbany County Central Federation of Labor
Debby Lee CohenCafeteria Culture
Adrienne EspositoCitizens Campaign for the Environment
Manna Jo GreeneHudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc.
Mark DunleaGreen Education and Legal Fund
Elizabeth MoranNYPIRG
Jeremy ChersonRiverkeeper
Jackie NuñezThe Last Plastic Straw
Don RiepeAmerican Littoral Society
Dorian Fulvio350NYC
Susan HollandAAUW Kingston NY
Barbara SpinkAdvocacy Committee of the Capital Region Creation Care Coalition
George PovallAll Our Energy
Jillian LinerAudubon New York
Christine CampbellBeyond Plastics
Justin GreenBig Reuse
Jennifer ScarlottBronx Climate Justice North
Rick SproutBroome Tioga Green Party
Christine PrimomoCapital Women
Mary SmithChurch Women United in New York State
Tracy FrischClean Air Action Network of Glens Falls
Sally CourtrightClimate Reality Project
Karen WeissmanCloseTheLoopNYC
Judith K. CanepaCoalition Against the Rockaway Pipeline
Michelle McAllisterCoalition to Save Hempstead Harbor
Cheryl Frank
Joan KosterConcerned Citizens of Rural Broome
Anthony GronowiczCUNY DIVEST from fossil fuels
Cara SclafaniD3 Green Schools Group
Lori VroegindeweyDistrict 14 Green Alliance
Nancy DwyerDwyer and Sons, LLC
Ruthann RichardsEnvironmental Action Club at Skidmore College
Kate KureraEnvironmental Advocates of New York
Anne Jaffe HolmesFederated Conservationists of Westchester County
Michelle de la UzFifth Avenue Committee
Laura DeneyFlicker filmworks
Ellen ConnettFluoride Action Network
Christina GraceFoodprint Group Inc.
Diana WrightFoodscraps360.com, LLC
Joyann CiriglianoFour Harbors Audubon Society
Sr. Margaret SolpraFranciscan Sisters of the Atonement
Gary LessardGary Lessard Consulting
Yvonne TaylorGas Free Seneca
June SummersGenesee Valley Audubon Society
Deborah KaplanGoddard Riverside Green Keepers
Patricia WoodGrassroots Environmental Education
Annette BrownellGreat South Bay Audubon Society
Suzie RossGreen Ossining
Daniella LieblingGreen Party of Brooklyn
Joseph NahamGreen Party of Nassau County
Paola Dalle CarbonareHealing & Protecting Our Land Together
Tara A DePorteHuman Impacts Institute
Karen MacWattersIndivisible 518: Justice for All
Tara DrolkarMamaki
Jo MispelMobilization for Change Community Garden
Lauren CosgroveNational Parks Conservation Association
Judith K. CanepaNew York Climate Action Group
Wyldon King FishmanNew York Solar Energy Society
Bernice MennisNew York Tri County Transition
Paul TickNews from the Neighborhood
Jerry RiversNorth American Climate, Conservation and Environment(NACCE)
Jennifer ScarlottNorth Bronx Racial Justice
Anthony BuisserethNorth Brooklyn Neighbors
Ginger Storey-WelchNorth Country 350 Alliance
Debra O’KaneNorth Fork Audubon Society
Jennifer Wilson PinesNorth Shore Audubon Society
Larry FedermanNorthern Catskills Audubon Society
Robert KolodnyNY Buddhist Climate Action Network
Manuela ZamoraNY Sun Works
Matt MalinaNYC H2O
Deborah LynchNYPAN SFL
Cassia PatelOceanic Global Foundation
Maryanne AdamsOnondaga Audubon
Jody SuslerOrange County Audubon Society
Sam MagavernPartnership for the Public Good
Diana WrightPAUSE – People of Albany United for Safe Energy
Tim KeatingRainforest Relief
Kristin NordervalReduta Deux
Suzanne Carreker-VoigtRegional Farm and Food Project
Charlotte BinnsRenewYorkCity
Benjamin KoganReusable Solutions
Raju RajanReWild Long Island, Inc.
Karen D’AlessandriRockland Audubon Society
Michael ChojnickiSASD
Anne SwaimSaw Mill River Audubon
Michelle SterlingScarsdale Conservation Advisory Council
Joseph CampbellSeneca Lake Guardian
George HoffmanSetauket Harbor Task Force
Catherine SkopicShut Down Indian Point Now
Teresa KotturanSisters of Charity Federation
Sr. Joan Agro, O.P.Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt, New York
Howard BrandsteinSixth Street Community Center
William ReinhardtSolarize Albany
Mazeda A. UddinSouth Asian Fund For Education, scholarship and training ( SAFEST)
Brien WeinerSouth Shore Audubon Society
Nancy NortonStone Quarry House
Maisy Noble-BuonoSunrise Movement Albany
Daniel LipsonSUNY New Paltz Environmental Task Force
Patrick DiamondSurfrider Foundation, NYC Chapter
Margie ShepardSustainable Saratoga
Julia CalderonSustainable Warwick, Warwick
Tim GuineeThe Climate Actors
Tim GuineeThe NY Climate Reality Chapters Coalition
Lisa AdamsonTricounty NY Transition
Drea LeanzaTroy Zero Waste
Orin KotulaUnitarian Church of All Souls NYC
Ling TsouUnited for Action
Sarah GallagherUpper Green Side
Deyva ArthurUpper Hudson Green Party
Miriam Gordon Robert KeilbachUPSTREAM Veterans For Peace – NYC Chapter 34
Daniel KushnickVillage of Mamaroneck CFTE
Jack W. KanackWeather Medic, Inc
Nada KhaderWESPAC
Melissa ElsteinWest 80s Neighborhood Association
Terri ThalWest Branch Conservation Association
Susan Van DolsenWestchetser for Change
Tina LiebermanZero Waste Capital District