New plan: Ban plastic bags, paper bags completely from NJ stores
Putting a fee on paper or plastic bags at stores isn't an effective way to cut down on the plastic pollution that's an emerging crisis in New Jersey, according to supporters of a new proposal making waves in Trenton.
State Senator Bob Smith has announced his intention to expand a proposal for a ban on single-use plastics to also include disposal paper bags.
He and fellow Democratic state Senator Linda Greenstein sponsored the original proposal last fall, which would charge 10 cents for disposable paper bags.
It came on the heels of Gov. Phil Murphy vetoing a 2018 measure that would have imposed a 5 cent tax on plastic and paper disposable bags across NJ.
New Jersey uses 4.4 billion plastic bags a year, according to the NJ League of Conservation Voters.
Smith says the ban on plastic bags is an urgent issue, as plastics have turned up in many waterways and the food chain itself. He said fish in both fresh water and the ocean have been found to have ingested plastic particles and the chemicals that go with it.
Similar evidence has been pointed to by Environment New Jersey, which said on its website that scientists have found plastic fragments in hundreds of species, including 86% of all sea turtle species, 44% of all seabird species and 43% of all marine mammal species.
Smith, who represents parts of Middlesex and Somerset counties, says there's now growing evidence that simply charging 10 cents for a paper bag won't work, since customers will easily pay it, without effecting any change in the amount of trash and contamination that single-use bags are causing.
The addition of paper bags to the proposed ban has sparked conversation around NJ about whether it's a "better" choice without sacrificing convenience.
"If landfilled, plastic bags are more environmentally benign than paper, as they require less space; paper occupies approximately half of overall landfill volume," according to the Environmental Literacy Council. More emissions are created by vehicles transporting paper bags to stores, as "It would take approximately seven trucks to transport the same number of paper bags as can be transported by a single truck full of plastic bags."
Smith said he's asked for the measure to be posted so he can amend it, and get it on the state Senate floor before summer. He also said the proposal has a big vote of support from The New Jersey Food Council, an alliance of food retailers and their supplier partners.
"As more customers shift their shopping habits and bring reusable bags, we think it’s a sensible solution to phase out and ban both plastic and paper single use bags," NJ Food Council President and CEO Linda Doherty said in a written response to NJ 101.5 News.
Doherty also said "As customers choose to reuse, we support this uniform progressive policy at the checkout. We are prepared to work with the Legislature and the Murphy Administration on a statewide standard."
Smith said he knows he's gotten a lot of heat for mentioning another nation that has been successful with a ban on disposable bags — Aruba.
He said the island nation has a very casual approach to the single-use issue. Either bring reusable grocery bags, or stores will give you a cardboard box from a grocery shipment to take your order home.
It's similar to customer practice at wholesale retailers like Costco, BJ's and Sam's Club, or the grocery chain Aldi, which does not offer disposable bags.
As NJ continues to debate the issue, other states have moved forward.
Hawaii has had an "unofficial" statewide ban on most plastic bags and paper bags made of less than 40% recycled material, and California also passed a single-use plastic bag ban by voter referendum in 2016.
New York passed a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at the end of March.
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