May 27, 2020
Commissioner Basil Seggos
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
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.
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:
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.
|Judith Enck||Beyond Plastics|
|Eric Goldstein||Natural Resources Defense Council|
|Bill Ritchie||Albany County Central Federation of Labor|
|Debby Lee Cohen||Cafeteria Culture|
|Adrienne Esposito||Citizens Campaign for the Environment|
|Manna Jo Greene||Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc.|
|Mark Dunlea||Green Education and Legal Fund|
|Jackie Nuñez||The Last Plastic Straw|
|Don Riepe||American Littoral Society|
|Susan Holland||AAUW Kingston NY|
|Barbara Spink||Advocacy Committee of the Capital Region Creation Care Coalition|
|George Povall||All Our Energy|
|Jillian Liner||Audubon New York|
|Christine Campbell||Beyond Plastics|
|Justin Green||Big Reuse|
|Jennifer Scarlott||Bronx Climate Justice North|
|Rick Sprout||Broome Tioga Green Party|
|Christine Primomo||Capital Women|
|Mary Smith||Church Women United in New York State|
|Tracy Frisch||Clean Air Action Network of Glens Falls|
|Sally Courtright||Climate Reality Project|
|Judith K. Canepa||Coalition Against the Rockaway Pipeline|
|Michelle McAllister||Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor|
|Joan Koster||Concerned Citizens of Rural Broome|
|Anthony Gronowicz||CUNY DIVEST from fossil fuels|
|Cara Sclafani||D3 Green Schools Group|
|Lori Vroegindewey||District 14 Green Alliance|
|Nancy Dwyer||Dwyer and Sons, LLC|
|Ruthann Richards||Environmental Action Club at Skidmore College|
|Kate Kurera||Environmental Advocates of New York|
|Anne Jaffe Holmes||Federated Conservationists of Westchester County|
|Michelle de la Uz||Fifth Avenue Committee|
|Laura Deney||Flicker filmworks|
|Ellen Connett||Fluoride Action Network|
|Christina Grace||Foodprint Group Inc.|
|Diana Wright||Foodscraps360.com, LLC|
|Joyann Cirigliano||Four Harbors Audubon Society|
|Sr. Margaret Solpra||Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement|
|Gary Lessard||Gary Lessard Consulting|
|Yvonne Taylor||Gas Free Seneca|
|June Summers||Genesee Valley Audubon Society|
|Deborah Kaplan||Goddard Riverside Green Keepers|
|Patricia Wood||Grassroots Environmental Education|
|Annette Brownell||Great South Bay Audubon Society|
|Suzie Ross||Green Ossining|
|Daniella Liebling||Green Party of Brooklyn|
|Joseph Naham||Green Party of Nassau County|
|Paola Dalle Carbonare||Healing & Protecting Our Land Together|
|Tara A DePorte||Human Impacts Institute|
|Karen MacWatters||Indivisible 518: Justice for All|
|Jo Mispel||Mobilization for Change Community Garden|
|Lauren Cosgrove||National Parks Conservation Association|
|Judith K. Canepa||New York Climate Action Group|
|Wyldon King Fishman||New York Solar Energy Society|
|Bernice Mennis||New York Tri County Transition|
|Paul Tick||News from the Neighborhood|
|Jerry Rivers||North American Climate, Conservation and Environment(NACCE)|
|Jennifer Scarlott||North Bronx Racial Justice|
|Anthony Buissereth||North Brooklyn Neighbors|
|Ginger Storey-Welch||North Country 350 Alliance|
|Debra O’Kane||North Fork Audubon Society|
|Jennifer Wilson Pines||North Shore Audubon Society|
|Larry Federman||Northern Catskills Audubon Society|
|Robert Kolodny||NY Buddhist Climate Action Network|
|Manuela Zamora||NY Sun Works|
|Matt Malina||NYC H2O|
|Deborah Lynch||NYPAN SFL|
|Cassia Patel||Oceanic Global Foundation|
|Maryanne Adams||Onondaga Audubon|
|Jody Susler||Orange County Audubon Society|
|Sam Magavern||Partnership for the Public Good|
|Diana Wright||PAUSE – People of Albany United for Safe Energy|
|Tim Keating||Rainforest Relief|
|Kristin Norderval||Reduta Deux|
|Suzanne Carreker-Voigt||Regional Farm and Food Project|
|Benjamin Kogan||Reusable Solutions|
|Raju Rajan||ReWild Long Island, Inc.|
|Karen D’Alessandri||Rockland Audubon Society|
|Anne Swaim||Saw Mill River Audubon|
|Michelle Sterling||Scarsdale Conservation Advisory Council|
|Joseph Campbell||Seneca Lake Guardian|
|George Hoffman||Setauket Harbor Task Force|
|Catherine Skopic||Shut Down Indian Point Now|
|Teresa Kotturan||Sisters of Charity Federation|
|Sr. Joan Agro, O.P.||Sisters of St. Dominic of Blauvelt, New York|
|Howard Brandstein||Sixth Street Community Center|
|William Reinhardt||Solarize Albany|
|Mazeda A. Uddin||South Asian Fund For Education, scholarship and training ( SAFEST)|
|Brien Weiner||South Shore Audubon Society|
|Nancy Norton||Stone Quarry House|
|Maisy Noble-Buono||Sunrise Movement Albany|
|Daniel Lipson||SUNY New Paltz Environmental Task Force|
|Patrick Diamond||Surfrider Foundation, NYC Chapter|
|Margie Shepard||Sustainable Saratoga|
|Julia Calderon||Sustainable Warwick, Warwick|
|Tim Guinee||The Climate Actors|
|Tim Guinee||The NY Climate Reality Chapters Coalition|
|Lisa Adamson||Tricounty NY Transition|
|Drea Leanza||Troy Zero Waste|
|Orin Kotula||Unitarian Church of All Souls NYC|
|Ling Tsou||United for Action|
|Sarah Gallagher||Upper Green Side|
|Deyva Arthur||Upper Hudson Green Party|
|Miriam Gordon Robert Keilbach||UPSTREAM Veterans For Peace – NYC Chapter 34|
|Daniel Kushnick||Village of Mamaroneck CFTE|
|Jack W. Kanack||Weather Medic, Inc|
|Melissa Elstein||West 80s Neighborhood Association|
|Terri Thal||West Branch Conservation Association|
|Susan Van Dolsen||Westchetser for Change|
|Tina Lieberman||Zero Waste Capital District|