TRENTON - Legislation sponsored by Senate Environment and Energy Committee Chair Sen. Bob Smith and Senate Environment and Energy Committee Vice-Chair Sen. Linda Greenstein, which would prohibit stores and food service businesses from providing single-use plastic bags, paper bags, and polystyrene foam cups and food containers to their customers, passed the Senate Jan. 13.
According to a release, S-2776 would place a ban on single-use plastics, paper bags, and polystyrene containers which would take effect two years from its signing.
“The longer we wait, the more damage we do to the environment and to our public health,” stated Smith (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “Thankfully, today we took action to fight against plastic pollution and we begin a path towards a plastic-free future. Plastic bag bans have proven effective elsewhere, for example, Los Angeles saw a 94% drop in single-use bags. When this bill is signed into law, it will place New Jersey as the national leader in the fight against plastic pollution. We will become the model for others to follow.”
The bill would not ban plastic straws outright, instead they would only be available upon request, with the goal of promoting paper straws.
Beach sweeps from Monmouth County to Cape May County discovered microplastics in the ocean and on the beach. In 2017, these sweeps found that more than 80% of the beaches’ trash was plastic.
In 2018, experts from various organizations, including Rutgers and Princeton universities, participated in a committee meeting with the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee to discuss the issues of single-use plastics and plastic waste.
One of the topics discussed was the dangers of microplastics. Studies have revealed that when plastics break down over time they become tiny microplastics. Microplastics are mistaken for food by birds and marine life, and they have become a part of the food chain.
“The numbers don’t lie and if you have been to the beach you can see it with your own eyes. Our beaches are polluted with plastics, children dig them in the sand and swimmers pull plastic bags out of the water. There are an estimated 150 million metric tons of plastics currently in our oceans and about eight-million additional metric tons enter each year,” stated Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “New Jersey residents are sick of plastic polluting our most treasured features.
Today, we took action on behalf of thousands of New Jerseyans who advocated on behalf of this legislation. New Jersey will now be on the path of a future without plastic pollution.”
Businesses in violation of any provision of the bill would be subject to a warning for a first offense, up to $1,000 for a second offense, and up to $5,000 for a third or subsequent offense.
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), municipalities and counties certified under the “County Environmental Health Act” would have the authority to enforce the provisions of the bill. All penalties collected would go to the existing Clean Communities Fund.
The state would be required to establish a program to assist businesses with complying with provisions of the bill.
The DEP would establish a permanent Plastics Advisory Council to annually evaluate the implementation of the act, study health impacts of plastics and alternatives to plastics, and recommend ways to reduce the use of plastics and the amount of plastics entering the environment and increase the rate of recycling of plastics.
Eight states have banned single-use plastic bags, including California, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, Oregon, Maine, and Hawaii. Major cities including Boston, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Minneapolis. Maine, Maryland, and Vermont have passed laws banning polystyrene foodservice products, as well as countless municipalities across the country.
The bill released from the Senate by a vote of 21-14.