Another push for N.J. ban on plastic bags and, maybe, paper bags too

While many New Jersey municipalities have passed ordinances to reduce the use of plastic bags, straws, and Styrofoam containers, there's now a call for a statewide policy.

(Richard Drew/AP Photo)

(Richard Drew/AP Photo)

This article originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

New Jersey is inching toward another run at banning single-use plastic bags, and paper bags may get caught up in the prohibition this time around.

The ban is attracting increasing support among residents, businesses and even municipal governments since Gov. Phil Murphy last summer vetoed a bill banning plastic bags while imposing a nickel fee on paper bags. (The governor vetoed it because he said he wanted a stronger version.)

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Since then, more than 50 New Jersey municipalities have passed ordinances to reduce the use of plastic bags, straws, balloons, and Styrofoam containers. Other states have followed suit. Maine banned polystyrene containers. New York prohibited single-use plastic bags in March.

Advocates are hoping the spread of locally-adopted bans will pressure New Jersey lawmakers to move forward with legislation (S-2776) that is bogged down in a Senate committee. With a patchwork of different, local bans, even those who oppose such ordinances would rather embrace a uniform statewide policy as the bill does.

Sen. Bob Smith, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and sponsor of the statewide ban, welcomed the action by local governments. “The towns have been the leaders on this,’’ he said. “Their effort has put us in a better position to pass this.’’

Hoping to get it done before summer break

Smith, whose bill passed his committee last September, said he hopes to get it out of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee by June 30 — before the Legislature breaks for the summer. With the entire Assembly up for election in November, legislators are not expected back until the lame-duck session after the fall election, when he hopes it wins approval.

“If not then, it will be the first bill we’ll tackle in 2020,’’ Smith vowed. Senate President Stephen Sweeney is supportive of the bill, he said. Smith hopes to amend the bill to ban paper bags, eliminate a 10-cent fee on paper bags, ban most plastic straws, Styrofoam and the release into the sky of balloons. “It was the strongest bill in the nation when we passed it this fall,’’ he said, adding it still will be if it wins final approval.

“People don’t realize how dangerous plastics are to their health,’’ Smith said, citing numerous studies detailing how widespread plastics are in the environment — from plastic particulates found in the Alps to small plastic particles found downstream of wastewater treatment plants in the Raritan River, a source of drinking water.

After months of inaction, proponents of the ban are more optimistic. “We do think this is going to move,’’ said Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions. She said the local bans have helped reduce the amount of plastic ending up in the environment.

“We are so proud of the work local communities are doing to cut back on the amount of plastic waste that eventually ends up polluting our streams and rivers,’’ Coffey said. “We are seeing it get a lot of support.’’

While towns are moving forward on plastic bans, the state will never get to a 100 percent ban unless it enacts a statewide prohibition, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We need Gov. Murphy’s leadership now to push a statewide ban,’’ he said.

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