Packing peanuts: The next thing NJ might ban
Fresh off the enactment of a ban on single-use plastic and paper bags taking effect in 2022, state lawmakers are now advancing plans to up the recycled content in plastics such as drink bottles – and along with it, ban packing peanuts.
The bill has gotten multiple hearings in the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, which finally voted to advance a substitute version of it Thursday. State Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said negotiations will continue over a half-dozen areas of disagreement.
“I think the overall testimony, at least as I heard it, was generally good step in the right direction,” Smith said. “We have a couple of issues left. Both teams, by the way, the environmental team and the industry team.”
Everyone who testified said they appreciated the amount of discussion of the bill. Environmentalists appeared to endorse the changes while hoping for a few more tweaks, while business interests were pushing for more significant amendments to the latest bill.
The requirements for recycled content in plastics would require manufacturers to segregate the bottles and other products they’d be selling in New Jersey, said Ray Cantor, vice president of government affairs for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association.
“Logistically it’s very difficult if not impossible,” said Cantor, who said the bill would also overwhelm an understaffed solid waste program in the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Unfortunately, this substitute bill fails to really address in our opinion DEP’s need for a workable program. It absolutely does not work for industry, and more importantly is does not achieve the policy goals that we believe that we believe this bill is trying to achieve,” Cantor said.
Mark Pedersen, the DEP’s assistant commissioner for site remediation and waste management, said the proposal would be challenging but can work.
“I do not believe that this bill is unworkable,” Pedersen said. “I think this is, as indicated, this bill has tried to stimulate a market and demand for recycling content in New Jersey. I think it’s aspirational, yet I think it is attainable.”
The DEP had extensive input into the latest version of the bill, which Smith said would bring the plan very closely in line with the approach used by California.
Gary Sondermeyer, vice president of operations at Bayshore Recycling Corporation, said the bill would be stronger if it more closely followed the California law. He suggested that the phase-in should occur over 12 years, by 2033, rather than until 2038 for rigid plastics and 2044 for beverage containers.
“We believe strongly that this type of legislation really needs to be action-facing and aspirational. And the 12 years would be more than the original timeframe, which was 10 years,” Sondermeyer said. “Manufacturers need more time, but we think it’s reasonable.”
The bill, S2515, establishes recycled content requirements for plastic containers, glass containers, paper carryout bags, reusable carryout bags made of plastic film and plastic trash bags.
The bill requires that plastic beverage containers contain 15% recycled content two years after the bill goes into effect, which would then increase gradually until reaching 50%. Paper bags that hold less than 8 pounds are required to contain 40% recycled material within 2 years. Recycled content requirement for larger paper bags is 20% within 2 years.
The bill also prohibits sale of polystyrene loose fill packaging, more commonly known as packing peanuts.
Walter Reiter, deputy director of the EPS Industry Alliance, said that doesn’t make sense, given that plastics are often recycled into packing peanuts – some of which are made 100% from recycled material. Reiter said it would be better to require high levels of recycled content and for any place that uses them to have to accept them from customers for reuse.
“You have a choice of two: 100% recycled content or biodegradable,” Reiter said. “You’re taking a product made in New Jersey that keeps 7 million pounds of plastic of the landfill by remanufacturing it into a product and banning it.”
“It will still be coming into New Jersey but by prohibiting companies in New Jersey from using peanuts, they will not be position to take them back and reuse them,” he said.
Tom Eckel, senior vice president at Somerset-based Storopack, said his company uses 100% recycled product in its loose fill. He said its Edison manufacturing operation has 40 employees but that if the state bans use of the product, that staff would be cut to around five people.
The Sierra Club says packing peanuts are dangerous to the environment because they are not recyclable and do not degrade. They instead fracture into small plastic particles called microplastics, which persist in the environment.
The bill would begin taking effect two years after its enactment. State Sen. Dick Codey, D-Essex, and others advocated for a shorter lead-in time.
“I pulled for a year and a half, because it’s so important and vital,” Codey said.
“It’s a good bill. It’s not perfect,” said Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, R-Somerset. “But plastics are such a harm to the environment, we really need to move forward.”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.