No bags at all: N.J. bill advances that would ban both paper and plastic

(Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo, File)

(Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo, File)

New Jersey could ban all plastic and paper bags as well as polystyrene containers, in a move lawmakers say will address environmental and public health concerns associated with those materials.

While discarded plastics and polystyrene end up in waterways, littering beaches and harming marine life, humans can also ingest small pieces in the environment.

“When they get into your body, because you’re ingesting them, they also bring with them organic chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic,” said state Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex. “This is a public health crisis.”

Under a bill advanced by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Thursday, a 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.

The bill would also ban the use of plastic straws unless a customer requested one. Smith said the carve-out was created after disability advocates said some people needed to drink through a straw.

It comes nearly a year after Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a different bag ban, which he said was not tough enough.

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

Michael DeLoreto, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Food Council, said some businesses would not recoup those costs for years.

“We just simply can’t support the concept of a bag giveaway with the definition of reusable bag as defined,” he said.

Governments are trending toward banning plastics and polystyrene. On Thursday, Philadelphia City Council moved one step closer to banning single-use plastic bags with a unanimous vote on an amended bill. 

In New Jersey alone, about 50 cities and towns have local ordinances regulating the use of single-use plastics.

“There’s a reason why Jersey Shore towns move forward to ban plastic bags and polystyrene first,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “When you do [beach] cleanups, they find not just a couple hundred, not just a thousand — 25,000 pieces of polystyrene on their beaches.”

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