Deutsch, Yeger, Felder, Eichenstein Call for Indefinite Plastic Bag Ban Suspension

A single-use plastic bag from a store on Church Avenue in Kensington. Photo by Stephen Witt

City Councilmembers Chaim Deutsch (D-Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach, Midwood) and Kalman Yeger (D-Borough Park, Bensonhurst, Midwood) along with State Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park, Midwood, Flatbush, Ditmas Park, Kensington) and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein (D-Borough Park) today joined together to call for an immediate suspension of the plastic bag ban/paper bag tax in New York State.

The call comes following exclusive KCP stories here and here that was picked up by several media outlets citing scientific evidence that the reusable bags used to replace single-use plastic bags carry a significant amount of germs that could well include the coronavirus.

But despite this very strong scientific evidence and the mad rush to supermarkets and grocery stores during the Coronavirus pandemic with consumers utilizing virus-carrying reusable bags that are put on cash register conveyor belts and touched by grocery baggers who then handle people next in line, the Cuomo Administration refuses to budge on the issue.

The ban, which took effect on March 1, prohibits single-use plastic bags, except in very specific cases, such as single-use produce bags. The new law also requires a five-cent minimum charge on paper bags.

More than 4,000 individuals in New York have tested positive for COVID-19, making the state the country’s epicenter of the pandemic. Studies have indicated that COVID-19 can last on surfaces for up to three days.

The reusable bags, which are a huge component of the new plastic bag ban, are rarely washed, making them a veritable haven for germs. A study conducted in 2011 by Arizona researchers found that bacteria was prevalent in nearly all of the reusable bags tested, whereas there was zero contamination in new single-use plastic bags.

A 2012 study in San Francisco, which examined emergency room data following the city’s implementation of a plastic bag ban, showed a 25% increase in hospital admissions for patients presenting with bacterial infections and viruses.

Deutsch, Yeger, Felder, and Eichenstein are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take executive action and suspend the ban indefinitely. They are also calling for members of the public to utilize disposable bags, or to frequently wash their reusable bags so as to avoid spreading bacteria.

City Councilman Chaim Deutsch
City Councilman Kalman Yeger

“Researchers have been warning the public about the health risks associated with reusable bags for years, but their cautions fell on deaf ears. Now, as we as a state are directly impacted by a fast-spreading virus, it’s finally time to take this seriously. Governor Cuomo has been extremely proactive in leading New York’s response to this COVID-19 crisis, and this is another important step he can and should take to protect New Yorkers,” said Deutsch.

“A responsible government would be doing everything in its power to limit the contagion,” said Yeger.  “Suggesting that New Yorkers should reuse bags of any kind is the height of irresponsibility. 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.”

“As we work to halt this pandemic and minimize the repercussions for all New Yorkers it’s clear that the bag ban should be eliminated indefinitely,” Felder said.

Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein
Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein
Sen. Simcha Felder

“The misguided bag ban has proven itself to be a failure from day one. As has been shown by numerous scientific studies, contagions are transferred on the surface of reusable bags. COVID-19 is the final straw. Clearly the bag ban will lead to unsafe outcomes. Governor Cuomo should end the disastrous bag ban via executive order immediately.” said Eichenstein.

A state Department of Conservation (DEC) spokesperson responded to emails to Cuomo’s office, in part, with a recent tweet from DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos in response to a story about reusable bags, in which the commissioner stated: “No. Folks, if you are concerned about the cleanliness of your reusable bag, please consider washing it—as you wash clothes or hands. It’s good hygiene anyway. New Yorkers are pleased with the bag ban and have no interest in a return to polluting ways.”

The DEC spokesperson said the agency continues to encourage New Yorkers to transition to reusable bags whenever and wherever they shop and to use common-sense precautions to keep their reusable bags clean.

“New York’s ban on single-use plastic bags went into effect as planned on March 1. Retailers across the state are complying. We have consistently said since the beginning of our outreach campaign that we will focus on education rather than enforcement,” the spokesperson said.

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