Trenton – A coalition of environmental groups publicly called today on Assembly members to support the passage of A1978/S864, scheduled for a vote this Thursday, and heralded the legislation as the strongest in the country to reduce single-use plastics to clean up our communities and the environment. The legislation passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee last Thursday with a bipartisan 7-3-1 vote. The legislation, which go into effect in spring 2022, would ban single-use plastic bags, straws on demand, polystyrene foam, as well as phase out paper bags at large grocery stores.
Since this plastics legislation was introduced more than two years ago, many other states, including New York, have passed legislation similar to S864/A1978. Currently, eight states ban single-use plastic bags, four states have banned polystyrene foam food ware, and three states have implemented a straw-by-request policy.
“It is past time to act to reduce single-use waste and litter in New Jersey and beyond. Plastics are now so pervasive with this fossil fuel product that we are literally eating plastics in our food and maiming and killing marine life. Plastics are human generated and we must reverse the tide. All the bill asks is that citizens bring bags to the store, ask for a straw if you need one, and give-up Styrofoam—I think we can handle it,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director, Clean Ocean Action. “We urge the NJ Assembly to pass this bill and get it swiftly onto the Governor’s desk for signing,” she added.
Fifty-five municipalities in the Garden State have passed and implemented local laws reducing single-use plastics – and now more than 1 million New Jerseyans live in towns and counties that have taken action to address the plastic pollution crisis. These states and municipalities passed the ordinances in response to both the public health and environmental crises single-use plastics create.
“Reducing pollution in our waterways is a bipartisan priority. It simply costs us too much money to clean-up and keep the Jersey Shore beautiful and our economy strong. Our best effort is to reduce single use plastics in the first place,” said Britta Forsberg-Wenzel, Executive Director, Save Barnegat Bay
New Jersey is not immune to the impacts of single-use plastics. For the last 35 years, Clean Ocean Action’s Beach Sweeps Program has worked to create a snapshot of the volume of marine debris and single-use plastics along the Jersey Shore. According to the 2018 Annual Beach Sweeps Report, volunteers picked up 454,365 items of trash from New Jersey beaches, of which 81.77% was plastic. Moreover, the most recent report, the 2019 Beach Sweeps Annual report, illustrates the volume of single-use plastics found along New Jersey’s coast, including more than 20,069 plastics bags, 35,124 plastics straws, 6,067 foam food products and 25,630 foam pieces.
The definition of “reusable bag” is central to eliminating single-use plastic bags. A reusable bag is not just a thicker plastic bag, and Assembly lawmakers have been firm on not weakening the definition. These thicker plastic bags advocated by the industry would undermine one of the core intentions of the bill and the non-inclusion of thicker plastic bags is one of the reasons why the bill is so strong.
“The Assembly needs to pass the plastic ban bill because of the urgency to deal with the plastic waste problem. Plastics have become a menace to our environment and our health. It’s killing sea life, birds, as well as getting into our drinking water. Microplastics have already been found in our drinking water supply, so we could literally be drinking plastic. We are creating a floating island bigger than Texas in the Pacific Ocean from all of our plastic debris,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “A plastic ban will protect our environment and save taxpayer money too. The bill will help save taxpayers money because it costs $100/ton to go into landfills. It will also help prevent new landfills from being built, reduce litter, and clean out our storm drains. New Jersey will become a leader in plastic reduction if this bill is passed. This is the most comprehensive packaging legislation in the country. There are safer and greener alternatives of plastic that we need to transition to before our plastic problem becomes even worse.”
The purpose of the legislation is not only to eliminate single-use plastic bags, but to develop the quick adoption of reusable bags. The prohibition on single-use paper bags at larger grocery stores and the funding mechanism for outreach and education to promote consumer adoption of reusable bags will help to do exactly this. The funding mechanism that allows the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to purchase and distribute reusable carryout bags throughout the state will help ease this transition.
“The whole point of this bill is to stop generating single use carry out bags, particularly the plastic bags which are ever present and causing harm to our health and planet,” said Amy Goldsmith, Clean Water Action State Director. “By going one step further to include paper bags gets this bill to achieve the true intention of a bag ban: to encourage customers to reuse and bring their own durable washable bags to the store.”
The ban on polystyrene foam food service ware received strong pushback from industry lobbyists last week. Despite claims to the contrary, these products are not recyclable on a mass scale in actual practice. New York City’s Department of Sanitation’s Determination of the Recyclability of Food-Service Foam found that polystyrene food service ware cannot be recycled. The report said that 30 years of both subsidized and unsubsidized attempts at recycling polystyrene foam food service ware had shown that foam recycling wasn’t economical.
“The most effective strategy for New Jersey’s environment is to ban single-use plastic bags and polystyrene to ensure we’re prioritizing our wildlife and our communities over waste. Plastic and polystyrene items we use for 15 minutes should not end up in our environment and communities for endless generations. Polystyrene cannot be cost-effectively recycled on a mass scale and we knocked on doors across the state and found broad bipartisan support to ban single-use plastics. We urge the State Assembly to move forward and pass this legislation,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.
The Middletown, NJ styrofoam ‘recycling’ program specifically excludes any styrofoam that has come into contact with food. The data from the Beach Sweeps Program is clear: polystyrene is a significant and pervasive source of litter throughout New Jersey. Additionally, while the environmental harm created from these items are well documented, polystyrene and their microplastics can negatively impact wildlife and public health.
The law currently sets fair and equitable timelines for implementation and enforcement. Given the severity of the problems single-use plastics pose, and need to plan for the transition off of them, the legislation, upon passage, won’t be implemented until early spring 2022.
“Adoption of this law will result in cleaner beaches and neighborhoods, less plastic in the ocean, reduced reliance on fossil fuels and chemicals used to make plastics and will spur innovation. Plastics recycling is a myth with plastics achieving an anemic 8% recycling rate nationwide. It is time to turn off the plastic pollution tap and this policy is a giant step to do just that,” said Judith Enck, former EPA Regional Administrator and founder of Beyond Plastics.