Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill banning single-use plastic and paper bags in all New Jersey stores and eateries Wednesday, delivering environmentalists a long-sought victory that saw repeated hurdles on its path to the governor’s pen.
“Plastic bags are one of the most problematic forms of garbage, leading to millions of discarded bags that stream annually into our landfills, rivers, and oceans,” Murphy said. “With today’s historic bill signing, we are addressing the problem of plastic pollution head-on with solutions that will help mitigate climate change and strengthen our environment for future generations.”
The law won’t kick in until May 2022, but once it does, disposable bags and polystyrene cups and containers will go the way of cease to be a part of life in New Jersey. Plastic straws will still be available, though residents will have to start requesting them starting next November.
The law does include some exceptions. Long-handled polystyrene soda spoons for thick drinks, disposable cups containing up to two ounces of materials, foam trays used to package raw meats, manufacturer-prepackaged Styrofoam containers and other item made of the material and named by the Department of Environmental Protection will be available until May 2024.
“Environmental activists and supporters of this bill have been waiting years for this moment. Plastic pollution has caused untold damage to the environment and to our public health,” Senate Environment and Energy Committee Chairman Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) said. “Taking action to fight plastic pollution now is key to moving towards a plastic-free future. I want to thank the Governor for being a strong partner on this legislation.”
Democratic lawmakers attempted to move the bill, which enacts the strictest restraints on disposable bags and Styrofoam containers in the country, in the lame duck session.
It passed a vote in the Senate then, but the Assembly didn’t take it up. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) at the time said its passage in the chamber was meant to signal his caucus’s support for the ban.
Now, it’s overwhelmingly clear Assembly Democrats hold the same position.
“Single-use carryout products fill up landfills and find their way into our oceans,” said Assemblyman James Kennedy (D-Rahway). “There are more sustainable, environmentally-friendly alternatives that many are already using in place of these products. This new law aims to encourage all of us to act together to protect New Jersey’s environmental future.”
Still, that support wasn’t universal. Industry groups opposed the measure vehemently, as they did when lawmakers attempted to pass it in January.
“Banning plastic bags puts additional, unnecessary pressure on struggling small businesses and imperils their capacity to recover from the economic challenges the pandemic has caused,” American Recyclable Plastic Bag Alliance Director Zachary Taylor said. “The ban forces businesses to procure and provide bags that are much more expensive — if they can be acquired at all — and ironically, also worse for the environment. As a result, consumers will see higher prices and manufacturing jobs across the state will be at risk.”