Say ‘so long’ to plastic bags. NJ ban now law

Sweeping measure also limits use of single-use paper bags, other containers
Credit: Zainub via Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0
New Jersey’s ban on single-use plastic and paper bags should help to eliminate eyesores like this.

In a move to reduce the torrents of plastic pollution fouling the environment, Gov. Phil Murphy signed what he and others call the nation’s strongest ban on single-use plastic and paper bags.

The enactment marked a significant victory for environmental organizations, which have been pressing for the ban since the beginning of the governor’s term. Besides the ban on single-use plastic and paper bags, the law will prohibit disposable food containers made out of polystyrene foam.

“Plastic bags are one of the most problematic forms of garbage, leading to millions of discarded bags that stream annually into our landfills, rivers, and oceans,’’ said Murphy in a statement announcing that he signed the bill Wednesday. Murphy vetoed another version of the bill two years ago, saying it was not comprehensive enough to address the problem.

Staggered approach to different bans

The ban on single-use plastic and paper bags and disposable polystyrene food containers will begin in May 2022. Two years after that, another ban will be triggered by the law, this time on polystyrene containers used for raw or butchered meat and fish, as well as polystyrene foam food-service products.

The New Jersey Food Council, a strident opponent at the start of the process, wound up endorsing the final version of the bill, primarily because 57 municipalities ended up passing their own, often different, bans on plastic bags.

“The unworkable patchwork underscored the importance of having this smart, uniform statewide law that pre-empts all local ordinances,’’ said Linda Doherty, president and CEO of the council.

Leave paper bags out of it

The American Forest & Paper Association opposed the paper-bag ban, arguing the action undermines an environmentally responsible option for consumers.

“With the stroke of a pen, Governor Murphy sent an alarming message in devaluing family-wage manufacturing jobs,’’ said Heidi Brock, president and CEO of the organization in a press statement. While eight states have banned single-use plastic bags, none have prohibited single-use paper bags.

But proponents disagreed. “This nation-leading single-use plastics and paper reduction policy will do exactly what we need it to do — reduce the 4.4 billion single-use plastic and 1,300 football fields of trees worth of paper bags that New Jerseyans use every year,’’ said Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

“Plastic pollution has caused untold damage in the environment and to our public health,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith, a Middlesex Democrat who sponsored the bill; he called the measure a key step toward moving to a plastics-free future.

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