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Bard CEP Behind the Scenes of New York State's Plastic Bag Ban

Each year, New Yorkers use 23 BILLION plastic bags as they shop for groceries, grab their takeout, and pick up dry cleaning. It’s as if we don’t know what plastic consumption is doing to the health and sustainability of local waterways and global climates.

But there’s good news ahead!

New York recently became the second state in the nation to reach a consensus about banning single-use plastic bags, a tremendous victory for the health of local waterways, wildlife, and the global environment. Here we take a look behind the scenes of this legislative victory and highlight the Bard Center for Environmental Policy alumni who were behind it all.

Here’s How The Plastic Bag Ban Became a Reality

The ban has been a long time coming.

Activists and community organizers in New York have been talking about this kind of ban for years. California pioneered a statewide ban back in 2014, and Hawaii followed suit soon after with local laws to prevent the use of plastic bags.

The last few years have intensified the call for responsible state policies in the era of a presidential administration that is anti-science and dismissive of climate change. The recent introduction of legislation known as the Green New Deal has increased attention to the urgency of climate change.

In March 2017, Governor Cuomo created the New York State Plastic Bag Task Force and charged them to develop a full investigation of the issue and a comprehensive policy solution.

The ban was discussed as part of budget talks in 2018, but got stalled.


IMG_2836This January, Cuomo came out strong for the necessity of the ban: "While the federal government is taking our environmental progress backwards and selling out our communities to polluters and oil companies, in New York we are moving forward with the nation's strongest environmental policies and doing everything in our power to protect our natural resources for future generations...These bold actions to ban plastic bags and promote recycling will reduce litter in our communities, protect our water and create a cleaner and greener New York for all."

Finally, on March 28th, Cuomo and state lawmakers officially reached an agreement on the 2020 budget that includes the statewide ban on plastic bags. There are exceptions for uses like bags for newspapers or meat in grocery stores, and local communities are allowed to opt in for a 5 cent fee on paper bags that will go to subsidizing reusable products for low income consumers and to New York’s Environmental Protection Fund.

This statewide ban represents a true legislative triumph and a triumph for environmental advocates everywhere.

Meet the Bard Center for Environmental Policy Alumni Who Made This Bill a Reality

Here at Bard, we are especially excited about this statewide ban, both because of our location in the pristine Hudson Valley and because Bard alumni played key roles in advancing the legislation.

CR Iris Marie Bloom _Jeremy Jen MetzgerJess (Schug) Fowler, Senior Budget Analyst for the New York State Senate and graduate of the Bard M.S. in Environmental Policy, had this to say about her role in the passing of this legislative ban.

"I was on a team of great Senate staff that drove this on our side. Lots of hours at a table with the Assembly and the Exec hammering out the details. I’m very excited to have played a small part in it all!”

Honorary CEP alumna Jess Scott, Empire State Fellow and former Director of Bard’s C2C Fellows Workshop, was also involved.

"I was supporting the Exec team who did the hard work with Jess [Fowler], her colleagues, and the Assembly – and the advocates, like Jeremy/Riverkeeper, who held our feet to the fire and provided much-needed feedback and validation. They pulled together quite a deal.”

Jeremy Cherson, Legislative Advocacy Manager at Riverkeeper and graduate of Bard’s M.S. in Environmental Policy, posted to Facebook about the plastics ban:

“We did it, for real, and Jessica Fowler and Jess Scott legit [sic] wrote the bill language! Plastic bags are going to be officially banned in New York. We are joining our friends in California and Hawaii. Hopefully, now, more northeast states will muster up the courage to join the movement against single-use plastics.”

Collaborative, Persistent Action Is the Key to Our Better Environmental Future

Our graduates are doing big things to advance the cause of sustainability around the United States and abroad.

This recent news coming out of New York that features three CEP alumni in key roles demonstrates what we have always known to be true: talented people who work persistently to grow their environmental knowledge and organize successfully can lead the change to a more sustainable future.

If you’re passionate about the health of the environment and interested in leading the change, there is no better time to return to graduate school for a career focused master’s program in Environmental Policy.

Contact us today if you want to learn more about how our programs prepare students to make a difference on the front lines of environmental advocacy and policy.

Learn more about Bards Graduate Programs in Sustainability in our downloadable guide,
A Career Guide to Jobs in Sustainability. 
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About the Author

Katie Boyle

Katie Boyle

Katie Boyle is the Enrollment and Marketing Director for the Bard MBA in Sustainability program and Bard Center for Environmental Policy. In this role, she oversees the marketing and brand management for The Impact Report podcast. She also manages recruiting, admissions, and enrollment for both programs as well marketing and advertising campaigns.