Otsego County is considering opting into a new state law that allows counties and other municipalities to charge a 5-cent fee for each paper bag given out at stores.
Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Richfield, Springfield, who is chair of the county’s Solid Waste and Environmental Concerns Committee, said County Planner Karen Sullivan brought the idea to the committee after the state Legislature passed a ban in April on plastic bag use at stores.
“There was discussion about it last week,” McCarty said Wednesday, June 19. “It is a concern. I am sure there will be more talk about it.”
McCarty said no decisions have been made, and no recommendations or potential laws will go before the full board for at least another month, possibly several months.
“I am not sure I am in favor of it,” he said. “I think every store should be like BJ’s (Wholesale Club) where you have to bring your own bags ... (and Aldi, where) you pay a 25-cent deposit for a cart.”
McCarty said if the state was going to pass a ban, he wishes it had included paper bags.
“It is the same thing there,” he said. “It is still going to leave a carbon footprint.”
The new state law, which does not apply to take-out restaurants, will go into effect in March. It allows the municipalities to pass the 5-cent fee, with 3 cents going to state environmental groups and 2 cents going to the county or city, but according to the law, that money must be, “used for the purpose of purchasing and distributing reusable bags, with priority given to low- and fixed-income communities.”
SNAP or WIC users, or anyone using any successor program, would not be charged the paper-bag fee.
Not long after the state law passed, New York City followed suit and passed a paper-bag fee. McCarty said many other counties are considering it, but only Ulster County has passed the legislation so far. Suffolk and Rockland counties have other pre-existing bans on single-use bags.
The Democrat and Chronicle, a Rochester newspaper, surveyed all 62 New York counties this month. About 40 percent of them, 27, including Delaware County, said they will opt out from passing a paper-bag fee. Most of the rest of the counties, including Otsego and neighboring Chenango and Schoharie counties, said no decision has been made yet.
The Otsego County Planning Department has been soliciting opinions on the paper-bag fee, including asking The Daily Star to run an on-line poll. It ran through Monday, June 24. Voters said no to a fee, 79.1% to 20.9%.
Shane Digan, a planner-trainee in the county’s Planning Department, said studies have shown paper bag usage increases following a plastic-bag ban. However, he said many municipalities, including Chicago, have paired the plastic ban with a paper fee with good success.
“It is expected that paper bag usage will increase following the banning of plastic bags,” he wrote in an email exchange with The Daily Star. “While paper bags are more biodegradable than plastic bags, they still require energy to produce and ship, and they still contribute to the general waste problem. Imposing a fee on bags has been shown to work.”
Digan said if Oneonta passes the opt-in fee, it won’t mean the possibility of a 10-cent fee for city buyers. The city fee would supersede a county fee, and the city would still have to use its share of the money for buying and distributing reusable bags.
However, Digan pointed out, many Oneonta-area stores are actually outside city limits, so would only be included if there is a county fee. The Southside Mall, for example, is in the town of Oneonta, not within the city.
The paper-bag fee has not come before Oneonta’s Common Council yet. Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig said the city is “in the early stages of looking at this,” and he has asked the county Planning Department to make a presentation to the city’s Environmental Board. That presentation is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 9.
On the county level, no action is expected immediately, but McCarty said if a law was passed, he hoped it would be by the end of the year, to give the county time to prepare for the state law to go into effect March 1.
“The Otsego County Planning and Solid Waste Department continues to research this issue and provide relevant information to the county board,” Digan said. “The next step would be for the county board to take up the issue and decide a course of action.”