N.J. legislators quickly reintroduce single-use plastic, paper bag ban bill

Timell Sherard dress as the plastic bad monster to convince people to cut back on plastic bag use. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Timell Sherard dress as the plastic bad monster to convince people to cut back on plastic bag use. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Legislators are acting quickly a few weeks after the New Jersey Assembly failed to act on the comprehensive ban on single-use plastic and paper bags.

The New Jersey Senate Environment and Energy Committee released the bill, known as S-864, Thursday, sending it for further action.

The bill 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 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.

New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel said it’s now time to get the bill passed “as soon as possible.”

“Every day of delay means that more plastics are getting into our environment and into us. This is the most comprehensive plastic bill in the nation because it bans paper bags as well as single-use plastic bags,” he said in a prepared statement.

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.

Clean Ocean Action Executive Director Cindy Zipf testified Thursday 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. We can and must do better. The time for action is long overdue,” she said in part.

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. 48 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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