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New state legislation would ban single-use plastic bags across New Jersey

The New Jersey State Legislature has pending state legislation that would ban single-use plastic bags, paper bags and polystyrene and Styrofoam takeout food containers.

Several municipalities have already banned single-use plastic bags or have had local Environmental Commissions recommend endorsing the recent legislation S2776.

“A statewide law to ban single-use plastic bags would be the most efficient way to reduce plastic consumption and protect our environment from plastic pollution. This pending state legislation (S2776) has not been brought up at a Cranbury Environmental Commission (EC) meeting,” said Barbara Rogers, Cranbury Environmental Commission chairperson. “Whether the Environmental Commission will support the pending state legislation would need to be discussed at an Environmental Commission meeting. There are no scheduled meetings of the Environmental Commission before now and the new year.”

She said the issue would need to be taken up with the new chairperson in 2020 and the Environmental Commission would have her support as a Township Committee member to move forward recommendations to the Township Committee to limit single-use plastic.

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

The bill bans stores 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 sq. ft. and that provide carryout bags to customers.

Food service businesses, which include 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. They would not provide plastic straws, unless a customer requests it because of a disability or medical condition.

Jersey City, Hoboken, Teaneck, Point Pleasant Beach, Paramus, Glen Rock, Maplewood and Belmar are among the municipalities that have banned single-use plastic bags, so far.

Lambertville earlier this year enacted a ban on single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam and polystyrene containers and plastic straws, mirroring the pending state legislation. Plastic straws would be made available upon request.

Hopewell Borough outlawed single-use plastic carryout bags in 2018. The ordinance approved by the Hopewell Borough Council allows stores to hand out recyclable paper bags or provide reusable bags to customers for free or for a small charge.

Mercer County proposed a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags in a non-binding referendum in 2014, but the effort failed. Mercer County voters rejected the measure by a vote of 42,702 votes against it and 27,304 votes for it.

The 5-cent single-use plastic bag fee was proposed by Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes, with the support of the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

Hughes acknowledged that the referendum was non-binding. It was intended to gauge how Mercer County voters felt about the issue of single-use plastic bags, he said.

Although Mercer County voters overwhelmingly rejected the referendum, Hughes predicted that the issue would not go away. The goal was to spur the State Legislature to take action, Hughes said.

That objective was nearly met last year when the State Legislature approved a bill that would have assessed a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic bags. Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed the bill because 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 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,” Murphy added.

The legislation that was vetoed by the governor would have applied to chain stores, which 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 sq. ft.

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

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

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