On Jan. 13, 2020, the end of New Jersey’s legislative session, the New Jersey Senate passed bill S2776 to end plastic pollution. The bill would completely prohibit single-use plastic bags, paper bags and polystyrene (Styrofoam) use in New Jersey.
This news was quickly overturned the same day as State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin failed to post the bill for a vote in the Assembly, declaring the bill dead. This requires for the bill to be proposed once more in the next legislative session, which is currently in progress.
The major setback for passing the bill includes concerns for the bill causing environmental justice hurdles to underserved communities. Specifically, the concern is that the bill also aims to ban paper bags, a later addition to the initial bill, which negatively affects individuals without economic access to costly reusable bags or a car to move loose groceries from the store to the house.
“Paper is not why we’re doing this. Plastic has always been the reason. We’re not pulling paper bags out of dead turtles,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
Despite this news, a bag ban has received massive support statewide and among legislators. The Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions reports that Speaker Coughlin considers a plastics pollution ban a priority, considering the tremendous number of phone calls received that indicate strong public support.
More than this, however, both the Senate and Assembly noted that municipal action in towns across New Jersey has transformed the bill from a nonstarter to high-priority in just one year’s time. In the past few years, at least 34 municipalities and two counties have plastic bag bans in effect, not including the 27 others waiting to introduce approved bans or that are actively developing bag regulations. Although this puts a dent into New Jersey’s 4.4 billion plastic bags used per year, according to the New Jersey League of Conservative Voters, more cities introducing bag bans have swayed legislative opinion to the importance of taking this important step in battling plastic pollution.
New Jersey is not the first state and is certainly not the last to look to introduce plastic bag bans, with California and Hawaii instating full plastic bag bans and four other states with mandatory reuse programs in place.
Moves to introduce a ban also follow a wave of countries across the world that have made such legislative efforts. Globally, 32 countries have banned plastic bags in response to the risks posed to the environment and disruption of various ecosystems. On Jan. 19, China unveiled a large-scale plan to reduce single-use plastics across the country, which will ban thin plastic bags by 2025 and will reduce the use of single-use plastics by 30%. Thailand started off the new year with a nationwide plastic bag ban, which will be completed in 2021.
“The Assembly failed the people of New Jersey by not passing this landmark legislation” said Tittel, “Because of these setbacks, we will redouble our efforts to get this comprehensive plastic bag ban passed in the next session.”