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Monroe County, Rochester won’t tax paper bags 

Neither Monroe County nor the city of Rochester will impose a 5-cent tax on paper bags when a state ban on single-use plastic bags takes effect in March.

The administrations of County Executive Adam Bello and Mayor Lovely Warren made their opposition to the tax known Monday after Wegmans announced it would stop packing groceries in plastic at its New York state stores on January 27 and would charge 5 cents per paper bag.

Like the tax, the Wegmans charge is not mandated by law. Wegmans said it was imposing the charge to incentivize customers to bring their own reusable shopping bags.

The law banning plastic bags begins March 1, and gives counties and cities the option to impose a 5-cent tax on each paper bag used. The localities could keep 2 cents of the tax, and the remaining 3 cents would go to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

While supportive of the ban, Bello said taxing paper bags was not an ideal way to encourage the environmental benefits of getting rid of plastic bags.

“I have no plans to introduce the optional paper bag fee that accompanies the measure,” Bello said in a statement. “While I’m in favor of efforts to encourage the use of reusable bags, adding another fee is not the right way to go about it."

His predecessor, former County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo, had previously said she would not support the tax, calling it an “insult to every New York family.”

Alex Yudelson, the chief of staff to Warren, said her administration had no plans to opt-in to the tax. Yudelson said the city’s resources are best spent increasing access to food, not adding another financial burden on residents.

“We really don’t see any benefit to opting in,” Yudelson said.

Wegmans is getting a head start on phasing out plastic bags. The company had initially opposed the ban, predicting that it would lead to an uptick in the use of paper bags, which are more expensive to transport.

The company said its 5-cent charge per paper bag would be donated to a local food bank.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at gfanelli@rochester-citynews.com.

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