Legislation to prohibit single-use plastic bags, Styrofoam containers and paper bags in New Jersey won approval by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today.
The proposal could make New Jersey’s regulations among the most stringent in the nation
“We cannot afford to wait any longer to act while our waterways and ecosystems suffer,” said State Sen. Robert Senator Smith (D-Piscataway), the sponsor of the bill. “The amount of plastic in our oceans will soon outweigh all of the fish in the ocean combined.”
According to Smith, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, bans on plastic bags have been effective in other parts of the nation.
“Los Angeles saw a ninety-four percent drop in single-use bags,” Smith said. “This legislation is us fighting back to ensure we have clean oceans, clean ecosystems and to evolve our habits to include safe alternatives for our environment.”
The legislation stops short of an outright ban on plastic straws, but instead would make them available only upon request.
Livingston Councilman Shawn Klein, an advocate of environmental awareness at the local government level, applauded the movement of the bill through the Senate panel.
“The disposable bag issue has been a crucial one to municipalities throughout the state with many towns acting to take steps to either ban and/or assess fees on plastic and paper bags,” Klein said. “Town councils have wanted to address the horrendous pollution and the associated monetary and health costs related to these products with the hope that as the towns move forward, the state would eventually.”
Klein noted that recent scopes have expanded to include other disposables, like straws and polystyrene.
“I am excited to see that the state is now moving forward and will be a leader in the nation eliminating these items where possible,” said Klein.
If approved by the legislature and signed by the governor, the new law would take effect in two years.
“The numbers don’t lie and if you have been to the beach you can see it with your own eyes,” said State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro). “There are an estimated 150 tons of plastics currently in our oceans and about eight-million additional tons enter each year.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that Americans disposed of more than 33 million tons of plastic in 2014, and most of it wasn’t recycled, Greenstein explained.
“It is irresponsible and inexcusable to not utilize alternatives over plastic,” said Greenstein. “We need to stop the damage now.”
The Senate committee approved the bill by an 8-4 vote, along party lines with State Sen. Dawn Addiego (D-Evesham) abstaining.
State Sen. Michael Testa, Jr. (R-Vineland), who was sworn into the Senate today, voted against the plastic bag ban.
“Dems in Senate Budget Committee just passed a plastic bag ban that requires stores to give out FREE reusable bags for 2 months after enactment,” Testa said on Twitter. “One business estimated their cost would be $12 million. Who ultimately pays? Customers through HIGHER costs.”