Friday, November 14, 2008

Reusable Pantry Bags May Help EFPs Circumvent Bloomberg’s Proposed “Bag Tax”

In an effort to raise city revenue and cut down on waste, Mayor Bloomberg recently unveiled a proposal that would charge shoppers a tax of 6 cents for every plastic bag they receive at the register. The proposal follows on the heals of a July initiative that required grocery stores to accept used plastic bags for recycling and, if passed, would allegedly generate a revenue of $16 million a year.

However, some advocates are concerned that Bloomberg’s proposal to charge shoppers for each bag they use might unfairly burden low-income New Yorkers who are already overburdened by skyrocketing food prices. It also remains unclear whether emergency food programs will be asked to pay the same tax as grocery stores and bodegas.

Whether or not food pantries are eventually subject to the bag tax, the proposal brings attention to the high cost of plastic bags for many food programs. Though many city pantries rely in part on bag donations from pantry customers, almost all supplement these donations with purchased plastic bags. The average New York City food pantry distributes over 300 bags each month, which leaves nearly 2 million bags per year added to City waste or left to litter neighborhood streets. As demand at City pantries continues to rise, both the economic and environment costs of disposable bags are taking an even greater toll on pantries and their surrounding neighborhoods.

This year, through a 2008 grant from the Citizen’s Committee for New York City a NYCCAH-sponsored network of food pantries in Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant were able to offer reusable bags to their regular customers. The reusable bags met with great approval from pantry customers as well as pantry staff, who were able to cut down on their plastic bag expenses. “It’s ridiculous, the amount of waste created by plastic bags,” said Eric Shoenfeld, a customer Community Development Support Corporation’s food pantry. “It’s important that we keep in mind the environment and work towards a greener planet.”

The pilot project may serve as an alternate model for food pantries hit by plastic bag taxes.

For more information on reusable pantry bags see the most recent issue of Feed the Solution, NYCCAH’s newsletter for emergency food programs, or visit the website of the Brooklyn Alliance for Community Services.

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