The New Jersey Legislature yesterday passed A1978/S864, a bill that would ban the use of single-use plastic and paper bags, as well as polystyrene-foam food containers, at a variety of businesses including large grocery stores, convenience stores, restaurants, food trucks, and movie theaters. It would take effect 18 months from now.
The legislation, which Gov. Phil Murphy is expected to sign, has been a key issue for environmental groups since the governor took office. Plastic products are polluting the world’s oceans, waterways and land environments. In the New York City area, it was estimated that 165 million pieces of plastic were floating from the East River to Raritan Bay, according to a 2016 NY/NJ Baykeeper report, as mentioned in a current NJ.com article. Most of the pollution was in the form of micro-plastics.
The New Jersey Food Council was originally against the ban, but with many municipalities enacting their own ban policies (up to 57 towns in the state) – in turn making it difficult for Council members to comply with so many different regulations – the Council came out in support of a statewide ban on plastic bags. It also is against the use of paper bags, which have a carbon footprint that is more detrimental to the environment than plastic, according to information of the Council’s website.
According to Food Council President Linda Doherty, “The ban on paper bags is critically important; they have just as significant of an environmental impact as plastic bags. Without this ban, consumers would have simply moved to paper single-use bags, failing to address the underlying goal of reducing our reliance on single-use products.”
Meanwhile, the Chemical Council of New Jersey is against the legislation’s ban on polystyrene containers. In an editorial written earlier this week, Executive Director Dennis Hart commented, “Businesses in New Jersey are struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic and take-out food containers have never been more important to businesses trying to manage their costs, while adhering to safety protocols. It is for these reasons, that I cannot understand why the New Jersey Legislature would take up this issue during this emergency and ban the one type of food container that is better for the environment, more cost effective and preserves the quality and safety of its food contents over and above the alternative products.”
The legislation, which passed in the Assembly in a 48-24-7 vote and the Senate in a 26-12 vote, includes exemptions for certain disposable items, such as: bags wrapping raw meat; polystyrene butcher trays; bags that hold fish and insects from pet stores; dry cleaning bags; newspaper bags; and bags carrying prescription drugs, to name a few.
Under the bill, food service businesses would be able to hand out plastic straws upon request, with the grace period for the plastic straw ban being 12 months.
There are fines associated with business violating the legislation, including a first-violation warning; a $1,000 fine for a second violation; and a $5,000 fine for a third violation, and others thereafter.
At least eight states in the country have bans in place, but New Jersey’s ban is the toughest in the nation, according to proponents.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) would oversee the new regulations.
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