Five months ago, New Jersey’s law prohibiting the distribution of single-use bags went into effect, a measure designed to reduce unnecessary waste and promote the usage of reusable bags.
But the bill’s authors didn’t account for what State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) has described as a “glitch”: the fact that a small percentage of people get their groceries delivered directly to their homes. As documented by NJ Advance Media, some New Jerseyans who rely heavily on grocery deliveries have found themselves drowning in reusable bags since the single-use ban went into effect.
The Senate Environment and Energy Committee took the first step towards addressing the problem today, passing a bipartisan bill that would allow grocery delivery services to go back to using paper bags and cardboard boxes for the next three years.
“As in any big piece of legislation – and this is the strongest single-use plastic bag ban bill in America – you think you’re getting it all, but you don’t always,” Smith, the sponsor of both the original bill and the cleanup bill, said at today’s hearing. “We’ve put together what we think is a pretty good temporary fix.”
Smith said that the three-year window before the ban kicks back into effect was designed to give delivery companies time to put infrastructure in place for a reusable bag return system. But some environmental groups argued that the window should be smaller, since retailers have already had a long period of time to find a solution.
“Nothing focuses a mind like a deadline,” testified Doug O’Malley, the state director of Environment New Jersey. “The industry has had 18 months to prepare, and now five months after the law was implemented – we think we can come up with a solution within a year. This shouldn’t be rocket science.”
Some industry groups, on the other hand, pushed for further rollbacks of the original bill; there were also concerns on how third-party delivery services would be affected and whether cardboard boxes would be fully banned after the three-year window ended that may be addressed as the bill moves through the legislature.
According to Smith, the original bill was a major success in its main objective: eliminating waste. Statistics cited by the New Jersey Food Council’s Mary Ellen Peppard estimated that, across the state’s approximately 2,000 grocery stores, 3 billion plastic bags and 68 million paper bags have been saved in the five months since the law went into effect.
“[The bill] has been unbelievably, wildly successful,” Smith said. “The numbers – they blew the top of my head off when I heard them this week. The bill is working well.”
There hasn’t been public polling on the ban since it went into effect, so it’s tough to know whether New Jerseyans agree with Smith’s assessment. In April, a Monmouth University poll found that 61% of respondents supported the effort to ban single-use bags, but 51% wanted stores to still be allowed to provide paper bags.