Another Chance for Plastic, Paper Bag Ban?

Tom Johnson | January 10, 2020 | Energy & Environment
Senate votes to amend statewide ban on single-use bags, but its future is still uncertain in Assembly
Credit: Flickr
The measure “is not dead yet, but it is on life support,’’ said Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

A last-ditch bid to salvage a proposed statewide ban on single-use plastic and paper bags, as well as other plastics, inched forward in the Senate yesterday — but the bill still remains on life support, at best.

In an unexpected move, the Senate voted to amend a bill once hailed as the United States’ most comprehensive ban on single-use bags during a tumultuous penultimate lame-duck legislative session that featured contentious debates on banning vaping products and other issues.

The critical amendments, approved by a 22-0 vote without any debate, would delay the ban on single-use plastic and paper bags, as well as polystyrene cups, for two years. The original bill put a ban on single-use plastic bags in one year, and paper bags in two years.

The new bill also deals with a significant issue for big-chain grocery stores. Under the old version of the bill, stores would have had to provide free reusable bags for two months after the law takes effect. In the amended version, the money to provide those reusable bags would come out of the Clean Communities program, an effort to reduce litter in New Jersey.

The issue is one that grocery stores and others had lobbied for, as the new bill would prevent low-margin profit facilities from having to take on new costs for their businesses.

“The 2-2-2 is a compromise to get this bill over the finish line,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, one of many conservation organizations that have made passing the bill a top priority. Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a different version of the bill in 2018.

In the interim, more than 30 municipalities and two counties have passed bans on plastic bags. Under the bill, current towns’ bans would not be pre-empted, but subsequent bans by local governments would be prohibited.

‘On life support’

Both proponents and opponents of the bill say, at least at this point, it is unlikely the Assembly will adopt the revised bill, but those projections are typically subject to change on the last day of the lame-duck session on Monday.

“It’s our hope we will see a detailed discussion on polystyrene recycling in the next session,’’ said Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey, which has opposed the bill.

“It is not dead yet, but it is on life support,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “There is no guarantee that the Assembly will pick it up, but it is critical they act on the bill.’’

Sen. Bob Smith, a Middlesex Democrat who has pushed the legislation, has vowed to take up the bill — if it does not pass in the lame-duck session — early in the next year.

The legislation is among several environmental bills awaiting action, including measures to promote electric vehicles, spur private investment in making government facilities more energy efficient, and promote new transmission projects to bring offshore wind to New Jersey customers. All are expected to be voted on in Monday’s final legislative session of the term.