Industry waits to see if NYC bag fee would apply to restaurants

NEW YORK Restaurant officials say they have yet to determine if a New York City proposal to charge food shoppers 6 cents for every plastic bag they get from a cashier will apply to restaurants as well as supermarkets, delis and specialty shops.

A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who aired the proposal Thursday, told Nation’s Restaurant News that restaurants are not the focus of the initiative, but acknowledged that the specifics are still being determined.

The plan is intended to encourage a switch to cloth or other sorts of reusable bags for environmental reasons. Proponents point out that many Europeans routinely use cloth or net-type bags to lug home their groceries.

Under the plan sketched out by Bloomberg, shoppers who ask for a plastic bag to bring home their food purchases would be charged 6 cents for each sack. The money would be channeled back to city. Local media reported that the fee would generate about $16 million a year.

“We want to stress that the program is not for revenue enhancement but to establish better, environmentally friendly practices,” said Mark Lavorgna, a spokesman for the mayor’s office. “If we drew little to no revenues, it would mean the program was a great success.”

Because the charge would technically be a fee rather than a tax, it could be enacted by the City Council. A tax would have to be approved by the New York State legislature.

News reports noted that a similar proposal is pending in Seattle.

Melissa Fleischut, director of government affairs for the New York State Restaurant Association, said she inferred from comments about the measure that it would extend to takeout restaurant bags. But she professed unfamiliarity with the specifics of the plan, and echoed Lavorgna’s caution that many specifics of the proposal have yet to be determined.