N.J. environmentalists decry no vote on single-use plastic ban

(Courtesy of Clean Ocean Action)

(Courtesy of Clean Ocean Action)

New Jersey environmentalists are lamenting the state Assembly’s failure to vote on a comprehensive ban on single-use plastic, the most stringent law of its type in the nation.

The legislation targets the sale of single-use plastic items, including single-use plastic straws, shopping bags and polystyrene containers, and paper bags. The New Jersey Senate voted favorably on the statewide ban on Monday but the legislation was not posted by a vote by the Assembly.

The 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. Plastic straws would only be permitted by customer request.

And that lack of action is angering environmentalists.

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Representatives of Clean Ocean Action, a regional coalition based in Sandy Hook that fights for clean water off the New Jersey and New York coastlines, said they’re disappointed, but will continue to fight and work with local municipalities to expand and build upon the foundation already set. Forty-eight towns have already taken action against single-use plastics.

“How many more whales, turtles and other marine life must die before our elected leaders act? Single-use plastics cause needless misery and blight,” said Cindy Zipf, the organization’s executive director. “We call upon the legislature to get a bill on Governor Murphy’s desk no later than Earth Day that would ban these initial plastics within the year. No more excuses. This is Environmental Protection 101.”

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.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said the lack of vote on the legislation “failed the people of New Jersey.”

“Because of these setbacks, we will redouble our efforts to get this comprehensive plastic bag ban passed in the next session. We will keep going until the legislature acts and passes a full statewide ban,” he said.

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.

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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