Ulster County bans plastic bags

(Photo by Nicole Terpening)

With the signing of the “Bring Your Own Bag Act” into law on October 19, Ulster became the first New York county to adopt local legislation banning single-use plastic bags. The law will mandate that local grocery stores encourage reusable cloth bag use at checkout by charging five cents for less environmentally detrimental paper bags. The ban was adopted by the legislature by a vote of 15-7 in September.

“I want to commend the supporters of this law for embracing critical changes that made a strong and responsible law even better, and I look forward to working together to make this plastic bag ban a reality as we continue to protect our children, our families and our environment for generations to come,” said county executive Mike Hein.

Before the law goes into effect on July 15 of next year, provisions to exempt residents receiving SNAP and WIC benefits will be added to the law. Fines won’t be leveled against non-compliant businesses until January 20, 2020, after a six-month educational period for retailers and consumers. From that date on, non-compliant retailers will be charged $100 for their first offense against the new law and $500 for their third.


“My understanding is that the executive plans to seat an advisory committee of stakeholders,” said legislator Tracey Bartels, who sponsored the legislation with legislator David Donaldson. “I would expect it would include the environmental groups, business owners, citizen activists, trying to work out the education roll out. Part of that plan has to do with the distribution of reusable bags.”

Bartels said that she was relieved that the legislation, which had been in the works for three years, finally passed.”With this bill Ulster County commits to taking action,” she said. “This bill is the result of years of diligent effort and its effect will be felt for generations.”

Restaurants (other than ones within grocery and convenience stores) are exempt, as are dry-cleaning businesses.

Although Ulster is the first county to ban single-use bags, some New York towns and villages, including New Paltz,  have done so. Suffolk County’s legislation requires retailers to charge for the bags. Officials in Nassau County are considering a similar ban.