Bill banning single-use plastic, paper, foam goes to N.J. Senate vote Thursday

A woman walks with a plastic bag in this file photo. (AP Photo)

A woman walks with a plastic bag in this file photo. (AP Photo)

The New Jersey Senate will vote on a bill that comprehensively bans single-use plastic and paper bags along with foam products Thursday.

The legislation, known as known as S-864, prohibits the provision or sale of single-use plastic carryout bags, single-use paper carryout bags, and polystyrene foam food service products. It also limits the provision of single-use plastic straws and appropriates funds from the Clean Communities Program Fund for public education.

The New Jersey Assembly failed to act on a similar bill during the last legislative session. The previously proposed ban on single-use plastic and paper bags would be implemented after one year, and a ban on polystyrene containers — such as Styrofoam — would take effect after two years.

Now, the new legislation would go into effect 18 months after it is signed for plastic bags, paper bags, and polystyrene, and one year for straws, although they could be provided at a customer’s request.

“It’s critical that our legislators push this bill through quickly, because the longer we delay the worse our plastic problem gets,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel in a statement. “This is the most comprehensive plastic bill in the nation because it bans paper bags as well as single-use plastic bags. This legislation is critical because it could make New Jersey a national leader in going after plastics and protecting our environment.”

During Clean Ocean Action’s beach sweeps in 2018, volunteers removed more than 450,000 pieces of debris, with plastics accounting for the vast majority of items.

In January, Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf testified at the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and urged action.

“Our single-use plastic consumption has come at a great cost to the marine environment,” she said. “We can and must do better. The time for action is long overdue.”

Critics said the legislation was unnecessary because of advances in recycling technology. Others decried one aspect of the proposal that would force food retailers like grocery stores to give away reusable bags for free for the first two months of the ban.

An October 2019 Monmouth University poll found that about two in three New Jersey residents said they supported a plastic bag ban, but many backed away from that zeal when presented with specifics about how it would impact their shopping habits. Nearly 50 New Jersey municipalities have already taken action against single-use plastics.

When given several options, only 31% of respondents supported a complete ban on single-use plastic bags. Another 27% suggested that consumers should pay a fee for the bags, and 39% stated that stores should be able to continue to give them out for free.

Joe Hernandez contributed reporting. 

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