Op-Ed: Imposing Small Fee on Plastic and Paper Bags Will Help NJ Fight Litter

Sandy Huber | July 2, 2018 | Opinion
Bags litter the Garden State’s highways and byways. Not just an eyesore, they are a big environmental concern

Sandy Huber
The New Jersey Clean Communities Council (NJCCC) just released the results of a year-long visual litter study that shows that nearly 10 percent of all litter on our roadways and highways is in the form of plastic and paper bags.

There is no doubt that these bags are of significant and ongoing environmental concern, creating an even more difficult job for our clean-communities volunteers across our state to conduct comprehensive clean-ups.

That is why the NJCCC is compelled to weigh in on proposed legislation now before Gov. Phil Murphy, that would impose a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper shopping bags in New Jersey.

This is sensible and smart legislation that would apply to retail establishments at the point of sale, such as supermarkets, independent grocers, big-box stores, drug chains and large convenience stores. It would not apply to fast food or restaurant chains or retailers under 2,000 square feet like bakeries, delis, bodegas and other small businesses.

This is an issue of sustainability, as we continually strive to remove blowing debris from our roads, beaches and parks. If the governor signs this bill, New Jersey will become a national model, armed with a single, statewide policy that would assist our ongoing campaign against litter, while not having a negative effect on our business community or further filling our landfills with disposable sacks.

The fee will support environmental programs

We are pleased that 4 cents of each bag sold would be used to support environmental programs.

It is important to have a consistent, universal policy across New Jersey, as we continually learn of municipalities creating their own ordinances in an attempt to accomplish the same objective. This statewide bag solution, as part of S-2600/A-3267, mimics a program that is succeeding in Montgomery County, Maryland, one which should be lauded for reducing the overall use of disposable bags by 60 percent and establishing the groundwork for what is becoming a national movement.

More evidence of this successful initiative comes from Chicago, where the number of plastic and paper bags Chicagoans use has dropped 42 percent in the first month after city officials imposed a 7-cents per bag tax.

Before that tax went into effect on February 1, shoppers in the Windy City took home an average of 2.3 disposable bags from the grocery store. Now, according to a study in published reports, shoppers are taking home one fewer bag.

Rarely does the NJCCC publicly voice support or opposition to legislation, as we are squarely focused on local anti-litter campaigns and educational programs. But this legislation is vital toward helping us accomplish our overall mission. We could not remain silent.