After years of debate, the Legislature voted to ban single-use plastic and paper bags, a step that could create one of the nation’s toughest efforts to prevent plastic pollution from fouling waters and other parts of the environment.
The legislation, a top priority of many prominent environmental organizations for the past few years, cleared both houses of the Legislature on Thursday. It has generated stiff opposition from business groups, particularly over its proposal to ban single-use paper bags, the first such prohibition in the country.
But after stalling for months in the Legislature, the bill (S-864) may win approval in both houses and be put on the governor’s desk this week, where he is expected to sign it. But even proponents say the vote will be close in the Assembly where some legislators expressed concern over the ban on paper bags and prohibitions over use of polystyrene foam for food products.
In a hearing before the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week, paper bag manufacturers, including those based in New Jersey, argued consumers do not want to see prohibitions on the use of their products.
In addition, the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey contended the ban on polystyrene foam food containers could cost New Jersey public schools over $4 million a year at a time when school budgets are being cut.
But supporters argue plastics continue to show up in waterways across the state, including the Delaware River. Of debris collections conducted by Clean Ocean Action, nearly 89.7% collected was plastic debris, according to a new report released by the organization.
The push to adopt a ban on single-use plastic bags has been accelerated by more than 130 towns adopting their own, and often different bans, some of which include on consumers paying fees to use paper bags.
The New Jersey Food Council, which had opposed the bill previously, shifted its position when so many communities issued such bans, preferring to deal with a statewide ban. At least eight states have adopted statewide bans, beginning with California in 2014, according to the National Conference of the State Legislatures.