A coalition of environmental groups applauded Gov. Murphy’s signature today of A1978/S864, now the strongest law in the country to reduce single-use waste to clean up our communities and the environment. The legislation passed the NJ Assembly 48-24-7 and the Senate 26-12 in late September. The legislation, which will go into effect in Spring 2022, bans single-use plastic carryout bags and polystyrene foam food service ware, allows plastic straws on request, and phases out paper bags at large grocery stores.
Since this plastics legislation was introduced more than two years ago, many other states have passed legislation similar to S864/A1978. Currently, eight states ban single-use plastic bags, four states have banned polystyrene foam food ware, and three states have implemented a straw-by-request policy. But no state has passed or signed into law such a comprehensive single-use waste ban in the country, including a phase out of paper bags in large grocery stores.
“It’s a good day for marine critters and the power of the people,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action. “For over 35 years, thousands of COA’s Beach Sweep volunteers have collected over 7.2 million pieces of trash, mostly plastic, off NJ’s beaches. Thanks to Governor Murphy and the NJ Legislature, we’ve successfully drawn a line in the sand and made NJ a world leader in reducing the plastic plague on this marvel of a planet.”
Fifty-five municipalities in the Garden State have passed and implemented local laws reducing single-use plastics – and now more than 1 million New Jerseyans live in towns and counties that have taken action to address the plastic pollution crisis. These states and municipalities passed the ordinances in response to both the public health and environmental crises single-use plastics create.
“Kudos to Governor Murphy and Senator Smith for having the guts to do something big to help clean-up our waterways. Barnegat Bay and our beaches will be cleaner for people to enjoy and wildlife to thrive. We are grateful for your leadership especially during these challenging times,” said Britta Forsberg-Wenzel, Executive Director, Save Barnegat Bay.
New Jersey is not immune to the impacts of single-use plastics. For the last 35 years, Clean Ocean Action’s Beach Sweeps Program has worked to create a snapshot of the volume of marine debris and single-use plastics along the Jersey Shore. According to the 2018 Annual Beach Sweeps Report, volunteers picked up 454,365 items of trash from New Jersey beaches, of which 81.77% was plastic. Moreover, the most recent report, the 2019 Beach Sweeps Annual report, illustrates the volume of single-use plastics found along New Jersey’s coast, including more than 20,069 plastics bags, 35,124 plastics straws, 6,067 foam food products and 25,630 foam pieces.
The definition of “reusable bag” is central to eliminating single-use plastic bags. A reusable bag is not just a thicker plastic bag, and state lawmakers and the Governor were firm on not weakening the definition. These thicker plastic bags advocated by the industry could have undermined one of the core intentions of the bill and the non-inclusion of thicker plastic bags is one of the reasons why the bill is so strong.
“This is a great day. New Jersey has now become a national leader in going after plastics and protecting our environment. This statewide plastic ban will help protect our rivers and streams from plastic that has been known to kill whales, get into our environment, and into us. This comprehensive plastic ban not only bans plastic bags, but also polystyrene and the offering of plastic straws. This is a critical step forward when it comes to protecting our environment from plastics,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “There were those who wanted legislation that only put a fee on plastic and fought for a weak bill 2 years ago. We want to thank the Governor for all he did signing this bill and vetoing the weaker bill. Now we have the strongest plastic ban in the nation.”
The purpose of the legislation is not only to eliminate single-use plastic bags, but to develop the quick adoption of reusable bags. The prohibition on single-use paper bags at larger grocery stores and the funding mechanism for outreach and education to promote consumer adoption of reusable bags will help to do exactly this. The funding mechanism that allows the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to purchase and distribute reusable carryout bags throughout the state will help ease this transition.
“This is an environmental victory that’s been years in the making,” said Amy Goldsmith, NJ State Director, Clean Water Action. “Thank you Governor Murphy not once but twice - first for vetoing the 2018 bill that would set back efforts to prevent plastic waste, and now for signing the nation's strongest waste reduction law. It was well worth the wait. New Jersey is now leading the paradigm shift away from single use disposables to reusables.”
The ban on polystyrene foam food service ware received strong pushback from industry lobbyists throughout the legislative process. Despite claims to the contrary, these products are not recyclable on a mass scale in actual practice. New York City’s Department of Sanitation’s Determination of the Recyclability of Food-Service Foam found that polystyrene food service ware cannot be recycled. The report said that 30 years of both subsidized and unsubsidized attempts at recycling polystyrene foam food service ware had shown that foam recycling wasn’t economical.
“Gov. Murphy signed the strongest single-use ban on plastics in the country to prioritize our wildlife and our communities over endless plastic waste polluting our waterways,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “Plastic and polystyrene items we use for 15 minutes should not end up in our environment and communities for endless generations. Polystyrene cannot be cost-effectively recycled on a mass scale and we need to transition to reusable bags. We are deeply thankful for Gov. Murphy’s leadership vetoing a half-measure plastics bill two years ago and his support for a more comprehensive ban and we are thrilled that New Jersey can be a national leader in reducing single-use waste.”
The Middletown, NJ styrofoam ‘recycling’ program specifically excludes any styrofoam that has come into contact with food. The data from the Beach Sweeps Program is clear: polystyrene is a significant and pervasive source of litter throughout New Jersey. Additionally, while the environmental harm created from these items are well documented, polystyrene and their microplastics can negatively impact wildlife and public health.
“The Surfrider Foundation applauds the Governor’s decision to sign this bill. New Jersey regains some leadership on environmental issues by taking on single-use bags, foamed plastic, and plastic straws all at once with this legislation,” said John Weber, Mid Atlantic Regional Manager for the Surfrider Foundation.
The law currently sets fair and equitable timelines for implementation and enforcement. Given the severity of the problems single-use plastics pose, and need to plan for the transition off of them, the legislation will be phased in after 18 months and will go into effect in early spring 2022.
“Hats off to Governor Murphy for signing this sweeping plastic reduction law. This is exactly the type of law we need to reverse the projection that in the next decade, there will be one pound of plastic in the ocean for every three pounds of fish. This never would have happened without broad public support and local governments first adopting their own plastic reduction laws. Now is a good time for all residents of New Jersey to start using reusable bags and avoid polystyrene and not even wait for the new law to kick in,” said Judith Enck, President of Beyond Plastics and former EPA Region 2 Regional Administrator.