Home>Climate>Assembly committee clears cardboard box regulations over Republican, business objections

Assemblyman John McKeon at Gov. Phil Murphy's fiscal year 2023 budget address delivered on March 8, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Assembly committee clears cardboard box regulations over Republican, business objections

McKeon wants to stop large retailers from using oversized boxes, but problems could ensue if bill becomes law

By Joey Fox, May 16 2022 4:26 pm

The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee today approved Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange)’s bill to ban large retailers from shipping products in boxes more than twice the volume of the product, but not before a number of business group representatives and Republican legislators noted the myriad problems the bill could cause.

McKeon first proposed the legislation three months ago, after he received a small car sticker in a huge cardboard box and realized state law should address oversized packaging. His proposed bill would apply only to retailers that occupy at least 75,000 square feet and have more than 50 employees (or online retailers with more than $1 million in annual New Jersey sales); violators would receive a fine of between $250 and $500.

“As much as as I’ve been attuned to the environment for the 20-plus years I’ve been in the legislature, it took the birth of my granddaughter, the ordering of a ‘Baby on Board’ sign, and a box that was about half the size of this desk delivering something that could have come in an envelope, that I said, ‘God, there should be a law,’” McKeon said at the committee hearing today.

Assemblyman Brian Bergen (R-Denville), however, argued that such legislation is unnecessary – virtually all shipping, after all, is done using easy-to-recycle cardboard boxes – and would be a burdensome imposition on businesses.

“This isn’t even a serious bill,” Bergen said. “This is a horrendous piece of legislation. It’s obviously not well-thought out; there are just an unimaginable amount of examples for ways in which this can’t possibly work.”

Joining Bergen in opposition to the bill were a number of lobbyists and representatives from business associations who pointed out that a broad ban on oversized packaging could have all sorts of unintended consequences.

Would there be a carve-out, for example, if a package contained hazardous materials that needed to be insulated? What about if a company needed to deliver a critical product, like life-saving medication, but didn’t have the right-sized box? Couldn’t the bill potentially incentivize retailers to use less sustainable materials to get around regulations on cardboard?

“A retailer wants to send a package as efficiently and as cost-effectively as possible,” testified John Holub of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association. “No retailer is purposely sending a box of far greater volume than it needs to be. Does it happen? Occasionally. But there’s a whole host of reasons why it could happen.”

There’s also the issue of enforcement. The bill authorizes the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Law and Public Safety, and counties and municipalities to “institute a summary civil action for a civil penalty or injunctive relief” – but does not lay out any funds or guidelines for how and when that action might be taken.

“How on earth are you going to enforce this?” Bergen asked. “Why make a law that you can’t enforce? It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

McKeon countered that there will be no “box police” and that most businesses will comply with whatever the law says regardless of enforcement, but did not offer any clear answer for what might happen if companies do disregard the regulations.

Though he declined to have further debate with Bergen over the bill’s consequences, McKeon indicated that he was open to amendments, noting that he received almost no outreach when he proposed the bill and only suddenly got pushback last week after it was posted to committee. With the prospect of potential changes in the future, the bill passed the committee on a party-line 4-3 vote.

“Having been in retail, this isn’t just about the mechanics – this is about awareness as much as anything else,” Assemblyman James Kennedy (D-Rahway), the committee chair, said by way of explaining his yes vote. “The more that people are exposed to this, the less waste there will be.”

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