Home Hopewell Valley News Hopewell Opinion Opinion: New Jersey’s single-use bag and straw ban will make a difference

Opinion: New Jersey’s single-use bag and straw ban will make a difference

On Nov. 4, 2020, New Jersey enacted P.L. 2020, c. 117 to place restrictions or total elimination of the distribution of plastic straws, paper or plastic single-use carryout bags, and polystyrene food service containers. Whether you’re a proponent, opponent or indifferent, you may still wonder if the law will have any real impact. Let’s take a brief look.

How big is the plastics problem? Why enact a ban on single-use plastics?

While many environmental organizations have raised awareness, here are just a few U.S. government cited impacts.

  • From U.S. EPA reports, since the creation of plastics in 1960, the U.S. has consumed nearly 1 billion tons. Of that, the vast majority – about 780 million tons – has been sent to landfills, but another 80 million tons (1.6 billion pounds) was simply dumped into the environment. In 2018 alone, over 800,000 tons of U.S. plastic were single-use bags.
  • Over 90% of all plastics produced do not biodegrade in nature. Formal studies have shown that:

o   Bisphenol A (BPA), a primary plastic constituent, has been detected in 95% of the U.S. population, and

o   17% of marine species ingesting or entangled by plastics are threatened or near threatened.

What will New Jersey’s ban do?

The ban will incrementally implement restrictions on several single use items over the course of the next two-and-a-half years, consisting primarily of the following:

  • The first component in effect since Nov. 4, 2021, requires establishments to only provide plastic straws upon request.
  • The next and most significant component, effective May 4, 2022, prohibits most retailers and restaurants from providing single-use takeout bags, the majority of which are made from plastic and paper.
  • By May 4, 2024, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will provisionally prohibit most retailers and restaurants from providing polystyrene foam food containers, typically used for takeout food.

How much will the ban reduce?

Once the takeout bag component is implemented, New Jersey will effectively eliminate 2.43 pounds of plastic and 2.91 pounds of paper per person each year. That results in the following annual reductions at the local, county and state. This amounts to a total annual reduction of approximately 1.85 billion bags per year (see this article for the basis of estimate).

In Hopewell Township, with a population of 17,491 as of 2020, the estimated annual reduction of plastic takeout bags is 19.61 tons, and the estimated reduction of paper takeout bags is 25.98 tons. The statistics in Hopewell Borough, with a population of 1,915, are a 2.15-ton reduction in plastic bags and a 2.84-ton reduction in paper bags. In Pennington, with a population of 2,531, the estimated reduction in plastic bags is 2.84 tons, and the estimated reduction in paper bags is 3.76 tons.

These statistics compare to Mercer County, with a population of 387,340, having an estimated reduction of 434.33 tons of plastic and reduction of 575.31 tons of paper; and the State of New Jersey, with a population of 9,288,994, having an estimated reduction of 10,415.9 tons of plastic bags and an estimated reduction of 13,796.72 tons of paper bags.

Conclusion

Assessing the environmental impacts of legislation is often quite difficult given the scarcity of reliable information. Lack of clear and objective data can lead one to conclude the impacts are simply too insignificant to matter, or perhaps lose hope. However, as shown in this article, the annual plastic consumption across the U.S. is near a plateau and may decrease in the near future.

More encouraging, the impacts of just this one law in one state will make significant improvements at the local and state levels with benefits felt beyond our borders. Looking forward, we can build on this law to pursue additional reductions at all levels of government and commerce to help improve our quality of life and the health of our environment.

For more information, visit www.hopewelltwp.org/DocumentCenter/View/8218/New-Jersey-Single-Use-Bag-Straw-Ban-Will-Make-a-Difference.

Paul Kinney is a Hopewell Township resident with a background in software technology. He is a member of the Hopewell Green Team and an alternate member of the Hopewell Township Environmental Commission. However, this article represents his personal views and does not necessarily imply any endorsement by these organizations.

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