Single-use shopping bags could soon cost you in Jersey

Don’t tell this shopper that you’re going to take her plastic bags away, or even charge a nickel to use one.

“I love the plastic bags. I use it for my garbage at home. I wouldn’t have them if I didn’t have these,” she said.

Lawmakers are grappling with how to deal with the environmental impact of both plastic and paper shopping bags. A bill that has passed the Legislature, and now awaits either the governor’s signature or veto, would add a nickel fee to both.

“I think it’s a great idea. After a few times of them paying for them, you’ll learn to bring them with you next time,” said one shopper.

According to the group Clean Ocean Action, 80 percent of the garbage on New Jersey’s beaches is plastic.

Rocco D’Antonio runs a waste management firm that counts supermarkets among its clients. He supports the current bill, which is sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

“If you look at the publicly available data from towns across the country that have imposed a fee on both paper and plastic, it was manageable, it was cost effective, it worked. The reduction was from a low of 50 percent to as high as 68 percent,” said D’Antonio.

But the bill faces opposition from, of all places, some environmental groups, including New Jersey Audubon. They want a higher 10 cent fee, and they object to a provision that would prohibit municipalities from imposing tougher restrictions.

Some localities, like Hoboken, Jersey City and Monmouth Beach have already banned single-use plastic bags.

“We need to make sure that municipalities that have taken action to ban plastics are able to do that, and that moving forward if there are communities that want to get all the litter out they’re able to do that,” said Kelly Mooij, vice president of government relations with New Jersey Audubon.

Of the 5 cent fee, one penny goes to the store to pay for compliance and 4 cents goes to a lead abatement program for schools. Environmental groups also want some money to go for providing shoppers with reusable bags.

“If you have the other kind of bags, more people won’t just throw them on the ground,” said one shopper.

Gov. Phil Murphy’s office says no decision has been made on the bill. There is a competing bill that would outright ban plastic bags, Styrofoam containers and straws. As more people shop for groceries online, all sides agree that what to do about the cardboard boxes they come in could be the next thing to tackle.

Bags aren’t the only thing that may be bagged in the future. Monmouth Beach has already banned plastic straws. It’s something that Starbucks said it would do nationwide over the next two years. The European Union is considering a proposal to ban plastic utensils as well.