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Bill banning single-use plastic bags and more advances in N.J. Assembly

An underwater single-use plastic carryout bag. (Clean Ocean Action image)

An underwater single-use plastic carryout bag. (Clean Ocean Action image)

Legislation that comprehensively bans single-use plastic and paper bags along with foam products and plastic straws advanced in the New Jersey Assembly Thursday.

Passed by the state Senate in March, the bill requires the following after one year of passage:

  • No store or food service business shall provide a plastic carryout bag to a customer.
  • No person shall sell or offer for sale in the State any expanded polystyrene food service product.
  • No food service business shall sell or provide any food in an expanded polystyrene food service product.
  • No food service business shall sell or provide single-use plastic straws to customers.

Violators would be subject to a $5,000 fine for each offense.

“This is a giant step forward for getting plastic pollution out of our waterways. This is the most comprehensive plastic bill in the nation because it bans paper bags as well as single-use plastic bags,” said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel in a statement.

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.

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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