New Jersey bans single-use plastic and paper bags

Governor Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed a law banning retailers, fast food restaurants and supermarkets from providing single-use plastic bags, paper bags and foam containers, including cups. The change is being called one of the toughest laws of its kind in the country and hailed by local environmental groups.

The legislation – sponsored by State Senator Bob Smith (D., Middlesex, Somerset), chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, and co-sponsored by others – was drawn up over several years and encountered opposition along the way. It will enter into force in May 2022.

Plastic bags are one of the most problematic forms of waste, resulting in millions of discarded bags pouring into our landfills, rivers and oceans each year,” Murphy said in a statement. “With the signing of today’s landmark bill, we are tackling the problem of plastic pollution head-on with solutions that will help mitigate climate change and strengthen our environment for future generations.”

Lawmakers said an estimated 100 billion single-use plastic bags and 25 billion styrofoam coffee cups are thrown away each year in the United States.

Less than 10% of all plastics in the United States are recycled. An even smaller share of single-use plastics is recycled because material recovery facilities are not equipped to process it and there is little demand for it in recycling markets.

READ MORE: Fastest growing consumer plastic isn’t even recycled

Lawmakers said much of the plastic, produced from fossil fuels, ends up in landfills, is incinerated or becomes litter on land and in waterways, including the ocean, where it is ingested by life Marine.

“The Legislature therefore determines that it is no longer reasonable to permit the unfettered use and disposal of single-use plastics in the State,” the lawmakers wrote.

But they went further by adding paper bags from major grocery stores and Styrofoam containers typically used by restaurants.

The law applies to grocery stores, restaurants, delis, cafes, convenience stores, food trucks, movie theaters and cafeterias, including those operated by or for government agencies. Although plastic straws are part of the ban, a restaurant can only provide them upon customer request from November 2021.

Shops or restaurants that violate the ban are subject to an initial warning, then face a fine of $1,000 for a second violation and up to $5,000 for additional violations.

Some products would be exempt for two years after the law takes effect, such as long-handled plastic soda spoons used for milkshakes, small cups used for hot food or liquids that require lids, trays used for raw or butchered meat and fish, and foods already pre-packaged by manufacturers.

Lawmakers hoped the state’s hemp-growing industry could one day become part of the supply chain for biodegradable packaging that could replace some single-use plastics and papers. These products break down in about 90 days instead of years.

Eight states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont — have banned single-use plastic bags, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. And five — Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Oregon and Vermont — have imposed restrictions on straws and foam containers.

Some states have a mix of fees or bans on paper bags, while others encourage the use of paper bags over plastic.

New Jersey’s ban on single-use paper and plastic makes it one of the largest in the country. Already, 55 municipalities across the state have passed ordinances limiting or banning single-use plastic bags. The new law will replace them.

The move resulted in support from the New Jersey Food Council, which counts some of the state’s largest grocery stores and producers, such as Acme, Pepsi Beverages, Wawa, Wegmans and Whole Foods, among its members.

Linda Doherty, president and chief executive of the council, said the law removes the “proliferation of varied local ordinances” that have created a patchwork of laws. Plus, she says, the group supports the goal.

“The NJFC has continually advocated for a uniform statewide standard to phase out single-use plastic and paper bags and encourage the use of reusable bags in New Jersey,” said Doherty in a statement. “The Governor’s action today does exactly that.”

“This is a major victory in our battle against plastic pollution,” said New Jersey Sierra Club manager Jeff Tittel. “This is the most comprehensive and strong plastic bill in the nation. This new law will protect New Jersey from plastic that not only harms the environment, but also endangers our wildlife and our health. This will go a long way in our fight against plastic.”

Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, which leads annual sweeps on New Jersey beaches, called it “a good day for sea creatures and people power.”

Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, said the plastics “we use for 15 minutes shouldn’t end up in our environment and our communities for endless generations.” He thanked Murphy for not only signing the law, but for vetoing a weaker version two years ago in favor of a stronger ban.

Ethel J. Montes