Lawmakers Plan to Ban Plastic Carryout Bags, Straws, Food Containers

Adding a 10-cent fee on paper bags, according to proponents, should encourage consumers to switch to environmentally friendly alternatives to plastic

plastic bags
The state is looking to adopt one of the nation’s most far-reaching bills to address pollution caused from plastic waste.

New Jersey lawmakers have drafted a bill to ban single-use carryout plastic bags but now want to extend the prohibition to plastic straws and polystyrene food containers.

The legislation, up for consideration in committee tomorrow, also will impose a 10-cent fee on paper bags. That step, in concert with the ban on plastic bags, will encourage consumers to switch to reusable bags and more environmentally friendly alternatives, according to proponents.

The fee on paper bags is double what shoppers would have had to pay under a bill vetoed last month by Gov. Phil Murphy. That measure would have imposed a nickel fee on both plastic and paper single-use bags.

In rejecting the legislation, Murphy said it did not go far enough in addressing the threats posed by plastic bags, which frequently litter the landscape, harm wildlife, and foul state waterways.

The proposal reflects versions of several bills pending in the Legislature for months, which emerged from a legislative hearing this summer on pollution problems caused by the proliferation of plastics.

The imposition of a 10-cent fee on paper bags has made bans on plastic bags more effective where they have been imposed, according to Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

California and Hawaii have imposed statewide bans on plastic bags; some cities in the Garden State have banned them as well, including Jersey City and Hoboken.

“If this bill passes, it would be the most comprehensive in the nation,’’ said Kelly Mooij, a vice president of New Jersey Audubon. “In one fell swoop, we would be addressing all the major causes of plastic pollution.’’

It is a huge problem. Nationwide, about 380 billion plastic bags are used each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The fee on paper bags should encourage shoppers to move to better alternative, advocates said.

“The key element is to change consumer behavior — use cloth or reusable bags,’’ added Ed Potosnak, director of the League of Conservation Voters in New Jersey.

Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, said it is time to deal with the problem of plastics.

“Unless we take action now, by 2050, there will be more plastics in our oceans than fish,” she said.

Half of the money collected by the fee on paper bags would be deposited in a new fund in the state Department of Environmental Protection to spur development of a plastics-recycling industry. Retailers who collect the initial 10 cents would retain half of it.

In the bill vetoed by the governor, most of the money retained by the state would have gone to fund lead abatement.

The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Bob Smith and Linda Greenstein, both members of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. Earlier this summer, Smith said he hoped the bill could begin moving in the Legislature this fall.