Sustainable Lawrence supports proposed single-use bag ban

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Sustainable Lawrence has come out squarely behind proposed state legislation that would, if passed in the Legislature and signed into law by the governor, ban single-use plastic bags, paper bags, and polystyrene and Styrofoam takeout food containers in New Jersey.

“We totally support the ban on single-use bags,” Sustainable Lawrence Chairwoman Pam Mount said. “We encourage people to use reusable bags. Store owners should find a way to encourage people to bring their own bags. People can be enticed to bring their own bags.”

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There are 12,000 households in Lawrence Township and if shoppers brought their own reusable bags, “it would make a big difference,” she said, adding, “We want to protect the environment and (bringing a reusable bag) is a pretty easy thing to do.”

Officials in some municipalities, including Jersey City, Hoboken, Teaneck, Point Pleasant Beach, Paramus, Glen Rock, Maplewood and Belmar, have banned single-use bags on their own, ahead of the pending state legislation.

Officials in Lambertville enacted a ban last year on single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam and polystyrene containers and plastic straws, mirroring the pending state legislation. Plastic straws are made available on request.

Officials in Hopewell Borough outlawed single-use plastic carryout bags in 2018. The ordinance adopted by the borough council allows business operators to hand out recyclable paper bags or provide reusable bags to customers for free or for a small charge.

The issue of banning or discouraging single-use plastic carryout bags is not new.

Mercer County officials proposed a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags in a non-binding referendum in 2014. Voters rejected the question by a count of 42,702 to 27,304.

The fee was proposed by Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, with the support of the Board of Chosen Freeholders. Hughes acknowledged the referendum was non-binding and said it was intended to gauge how voters felt about the issue of single-use plastic bags.

Although voters rejected the referendum, Hughes predicted the issue would not go away. The goal was to spur the Legislature to take action, he said.

The objective was nearly met in 2018 when the Legislature approved a bill that would have assessed a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed the bill because he said it did not go far enough.

“Instituting a 5-cent fee on single-use bags that only applies to certain retailers does not go far enough to address the problems created by the over-reliance on plastic bags and other single-use carryout bags,” Murphy said when he rejected the bill.

“In order to make a real difference, a single-use bag program must be devised and applied more broadly and consistently in a manner that would avoid loopholes that undermine the ultimate purpose of the program,” he said.

The legislation that was vetoed by Murphy would have applied to chain stores that had at least 10 stores in the state, and to drug stores, grocery stores and other retail businesses that occupied retail space of at least 2,000 square feet.

There were exemptions for senior citizens, and for individuals enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and Work First New Jersey.

The bill that is pending before the Legislature does not carry exemptions for senior citizens or for individuals enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and Work First New Jersey.

The bill would ban business operators from handing out single-use plastic bags and single-use paper bags to all customers. Stores are defined as grocery stores, supermarkets, convenience stores, liquor stores, drug stores and retail establishments of at least 1,000 square feet and that provide carryout bags to customers.

Food service businesses, restaurants, cafes, delicatessens, coffee shops, grocery stores, vending trucks or carts, food trucks and movie theaters would not be able to use Styrofoam or polystyrene containers for takeout food. Those locations would not provide plastic straws unless a customer requests one because of a disability or medical condition.

If the proposed legislation is signed into law, New Jersey would join eight states that ban single-use carryout plastic bags (California, Oregon, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, Delaware and Hawaii). A ban is pending in Massachusetts.

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