A push for New Jersey to follow California’s lead on recycling plastic

Revised bill is designed to encourage reuse and keep plastics out of the environment, landfills, incinerators
Credit: (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara, File)
File photo: A worker sorts out plastic bottles collected for processing at a plastic recycling center.

New Jersey is not yet done with trying to reduce plastic pollution.

The Senate Environment and Energy Committee is reworking draft legislation designed to spur use of recycled plastic and modeled after a California law that encourages the reuse of plastic beverage containers to keep plastics from being dumped in landfills, incinerators, and oceans.

The draft bill (S-2515), not yet made public, is viewed by proponents as a way of reducing use of plastics and helping to develop a domestic market for recycled material in the United States, a market that has virtually disappeared with the closure of overseas markets in China and elsewhere.

Sen. Bob Smith, who chairs the Senate panel, announced the revisions to a bill he originally introduced in June at a committee hearing last week. Smith (D-Middlesex), the bill’s sponsor, said he hopes to have the legislation signed into law early next year.

The committee substitute emerged after Smith had extensive discussions with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which convinced Smith that a California bill signed into law last month ought to establish the framework of such a bill.

“It is much more to the California model than the way we started out,’’ said Smith, who described the proposed changes to the bill at the committee meeting last week.

Industry and environmentalists in favor

So far, this draft legislation seems to have attracted more support from both industry and environmentalists than a bill awaiting Gov. Phil Murphy’s signature that would ban single-use plastic and paper bags.

“We are encouraged,’’ said Dennis Hart, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey. He said the sector is committed to the reuse and recycling of plastics. “The more we can encourage reuse, the less of fossil fuels we will use,’’ Hart said.

Instead of bans, the council wants to work with legislators to enact ways to encourage more reuse of plastics in recycling containers, according to Hart.

Under the revised bill, the recycled content would start at 25% for rigid plastic containers and 15% for plastic beverage containers one year after the bill’s effective date and then increase by 5% every three years to a cap at 50%. The legislation also would prohibit polystyrene loose-fill packaging, commonly known as packing peanuts.

The bill also would require manufacturers to register with the DEP and pay an annual fee, which would help to cover audit and enforcements costs for the department. The bill would authorize the DEP to audit any manufacturer to ensure compliance with the law.

A way to revitalize recycling?

“This bill is an important first step for our state,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “If we can’t get rid of certain plastics, we need to make sure that they’re made with recycled plastic to get it out of the waste stream. We need to be able to reduce plastic use and be able to recycle them.’’

The proposed committee substitute incorporates provisions the business community supports, including a mechanism allowing the DEP to adjust content standards through regulation. That provision is aimed at addressing industry’s concerns that some content standards may not be achievable under current regulations.

New Jersey’s recycling community, while yet to see the substitute bill, seems to be on board, at this point. “It is one of the ways to revitalize recycling,’’ said Frank Brill, a lobbyist representing recycling groups. “It will help stimulate recycling of what we lost with China collapsing its market,’’ he said.

Gov. Phil Murphy has a bill (S-864) on his desk that would ban single-use plastic and paper bags, as well as polystyrene containers, a measure backers say is one of the strongest such bans in the nation. Plastic pollution in state waters and the ocean has become so widespread that many environmental groups have banded together to press policymakers to address the problem.