If you live in New York, it’s time to start stocking up on reusable shopping bags. Starting March 1, all plastic carryout bags will be banned from distribution by all businesses required to collect New York State sales tax.

Cities and counties will be permitted to charge five cents for every paper carryout bag needed at checkout. Bringing reusable bags is the only way to avoid the fee charged by these retailers.

Stores covered by the NYS Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act will still need to collect plastic bags and other film plastics — i.e., bread bags and plastic wraps that cover cases of water, paper towels, and similar items — from consumers to be recycled. Consumers are encouraged to keep bringing these items to participating retailers.

What is a Reusable Plastic Bag?

One person’s idea of a reusable plastic bag might not fit someone else’s description. Before the new law goes into effect, it’s important to understand the definition crafted by New York lawmakers. Here’s an overview of the state’s official guidelines for a reusable bag:

  • Specifically designed and manufactured for multiple reuses.
  • Has a minimum lifespan of 125 uses and can carry a minimum of 22 pounds for at least 175 feet.
  • Has at least one strap or handle that is separately attached, doesn’t stretch, and is securely fastened to the bag.
  • Can be washed by hand or is machine washable.

What is a plastic carryout bag?

If you’re wondering if all plastic bags are defined as plastic carryout bags, you’re not alone. This can be a bit confusing, as certain types of plastic bags are exempt — more on that shortly.

The state defines a plastic carryout bag as any film plastic bag — with the exception of exempt bags — provided by a person required to collect tax to be used to carry tangible property. This also includes instances where no money is exchanged.

As noted above, some plastic bags are considered exempt. A few reasons a bag would fit into this category include:

  • Its sole use is to contain or wrap uncooked meat, fish, seafood, poultry, or other unwrapped food, flowers, or plant items.
  • It’s only used by customers to package items from bulk containers —e., fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.
  • It’s used exclusively to contain food sliced or prepared to order.
  • Its single purpose is to cover a newspaper for delivery.
  • It’s sold as a trash bag.

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