Story at a glance
- New Jersey just passed one of the toughest laws against single-use plastic products in the country.
- It goes into effect in 2022.
On Nov. 4, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed the strongest single-use bag ban in the nation, effectively prohibiting the use of single-use plastic and paper bags in all stores and food service establishments across the state.
The bill, S864, was introduced into the New Jersey state Senate with five primary sponsors, including Sens. Bob Smith, Linda Greenstein, and Nancy Pinkin, all Democrats. It traveled through several committees before being passed on Sept. 24.
Some of the containers affected by the ban include plastic carryout bags, single-use paper carryout bags, polystyrene foam food service products (commonly known as Styrofoam), as well as the limited usage of plastic drinking straws.
Single-use plastic products are increasingly seen as environmental scourges that clog waterways and oceans, the bill’s sponsors noted, with about 8 million tons of plastic waste seeping into the oceans from coastal nations every year. Since they are not biodegradable, they can linger for up to hundreds of years, negatively impacting multiple ecosystems.
“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,” Murphy said in a press release. “With today’s historic bill signing, we are addressing the problem of plastic pollution head-on with solutions that will help mitigate climate change and strengthen our environment for future generations.”
The bill goes into effect in May 2022, with products like meat and fish trays, pre-packed polystyrene foam food containers, and select straws being legal for another two years after that.
Food service businesses will be allowed to offer single-use plastic straws upon request beginning in November 2021.
In addition to harsher restrictions surrounding single-use plastic items, the bill establishes the development of a Plastics Advisory Council to gauge the bill’s effectiveness.
Penalties for violating the new law are scaled from a warning on the first offense to up to $5,000 in fines for a third violation.
“From our cities to our shores, single-use plastic bags unnecessarily litter New Jersey’s most treasured spaces and pollute our ecosystems,” New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe stated in prepared comments. “By banning single-use plastic bags, Governor Murphy and our legislature continue to make New Jersey a national leader in environmental protection and the [New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)] stands ready to implement these new measures and educate the public.”
The bill noted in its fiscal impact statement that alternatives will likely be more expensive. The bill was opposed by state Republicans, who said it would harm small businesses, as well as the chemical industry, which said it could hurt manufacturing jobs. The bill will also appropriate $500,000 per year to the DEP from the Clean Communities Program Fund to help develop a public information campaign regarding the new regulations in the bill.
Some restaurants and food establishments will be eligible for exemptions; if a business earns less than $500,000 a year or if “there is no feasible and commercially available alternative for a specific polystyrene foam food service product,” the DEP can authorize exemptions.