Many New York City bodegas continue to dole out plastic bags with purchases — risking hefty fines — because paper bags are too costly and hard to find, a new survey found.
The Bodega and Small Business Association, which boasts 5,000 members, said it conducted an informal survey of Bronx-based bodega owners this week found that at least 35 of them are still handing out single-use plastic bags at check out, despite enforcement of the statewide ban going into effect on Oct. 19.
“We are taking the chance on giving out plastic bags, risking getting a fine, because paper bags are too expensive” said the association’s president Francisco Marte, who also owns several bodegas. As The Post has reported, paper bags are also in scarce supply because there aren’t enough factories to meet the rising demand.
Bodega owners have found that a package of 200 paper bags costs up to $50 compared with $11 for a package of 600 single-use plastic bags, the survey said.
Meanwhile, the state won’t let retailers to recoup those expenses. Stores can charge a 5-cent tax for each paper bag they hand out, but that money goes to state and municipal coffers.
Some retailers who have been lucky enough to have procured paper bags ahead of the Oct. 19 deadline have begun charging about 20 cents nonetheless to break even on the costs, Marte said.
Retailers caught breaking the rules risk getting slapped with a $250 fine for the first offense and $500 for each subsequent offense. So far, none of Marte’s members have been fined, he said. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation, which is charged with enforcing the ban, has only been handing out warnings, he said.
“No fines were issued in the first week of enforcement,” DEC confirmed in a statement without saying when the fines start being issued. Retailers “will receive a warning notice for a first violation,” it added.
“DEC continues to conduct extensive outreach to stakeholders, including grocery stores, retailers, and others, to provide notice of the start of enforcement and to answer questions,” the agency said.
The DEC is in charge of ramping up enforcement at a time when the ban, which technically went into effect on March 1, continues to face legal challenges. The Bodega and Small Business Association, along with Marte and plastics company Poly-Pak Industries, filed a lawsuit on Oct. 9, claiming that the DEC’s enforcement policies are in violation of a previous court order in August that also banned store’s from selling reusable plastic bags.
The DEC has said reusable plastic bags are fine if they meet certain criteria.
The complaint also accuses the DEC of failing to take into consideration the hardship that small, independent retailers face in complying with the ban, which the agency has denied.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 4, when the judge could issue a final ruling.
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