On April 1, 2019, the New York legislature passed the State’s $176 billion budget for fiscal year 2020. Included within the budget were two significant environmental measures aimed at curbing waste: a ban on plastic bags and a requirement that food waste be diverted from landfill.
The plastic bag ban prohibits stores from distributing plastic carryout bags subject to several exemptions. The exemptions include bags used to contain uncooked meats, bulk items, sliced or prepared food, newspapers, garbage, dry cleaning, takeout from restaurants, and prescription drugs provided by a pharmacy, as well as bags purchased in bulk and for food storage. The ban does not prohibit stores from providing paper bags. However, it does allow cities or counties to impose a $0.05 fee on paper bags. Cities or counties that impose the fee can expect to get forty percent back, which must be put toward purchasing and distributing reusable bags, with priority going toward low- and fixed-income communities. The remaining revenue is earmarked for the State’s Environmental Protection Fund. The ban will not go into effect until March 2020.
The Food Donation and Food Scraps Recycling Act places certain requirements on generators and transporters of organic waste, as well as incinerators and landfills that accept such waste. Effective January 2022, establishments that generate an annual average of more than two tons of food scraps per week must separate edible from inedible food. Edible food must be donated to the needy to the maximum extent practicable. Inedible food must be recycled either on-site or at an organics recycler, provided one exists within a 25-mile radius and has capacity. Several generators are exempt, including hospitals, nursing homes, and elementary and secondary schools. Non-exempt generators may apply for a one-year waiver of the requirement if they fail to meet the threshold, the cost of recycling is not “reasonably competitive” with landfill, organic recycling facilities lack capacity, or for any other unique circumstances. Transporters must deliver food scraps to proper facilities and “take all reasonable precautions” to prevent comingling, as well as unpermitted delivery to incinerators or landfills. Landfills and incinerators must also take “all reasonable precautions” to avoid accepting food scraps from covered generators.
While these measures have been criticized by interest groups on both sides of the debate, there is growing concern about waste in America. Two other states, California and Hawaii, have already banned plastic bags, and several others, including Vermont, Massachusetts, and Washington, are considering similar laws. Several cities have enacted similar bans, with more coming in the near future. And Kroger, an early adopter of the plastic bag, announced last year that it would stop distributing plastic bags in stores by 2025. A similar group of cities, states, and corporations have taken action on food scraps. By enacting legislation to divert food waste from landfill, New York joins a familiar group of states, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. New York companies will need to move quickly to comply with the plastic bag ban (effective March 2020) and food scraps law (effective January 2022) and keep abreast of coming regulations.