In what would be a huge victory for the environment and human health, New Jersey is moving closer to banning single-use plastic carryout bags, Styrofoam cups and food containers, and plastic straws. But it may take some help from the public to bring this bill to the finish line.
Last week, a key subcommittee of the New Jersey Senate voted to move the plastic bag legislation forward. But, disappointingly, the bill stalled in the state Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste Committee this Monday.
Raritan Headwaters Association (RHA), the watershed watchdog for the 470-square-mile region containing the headwaters of the upper Raritan River, is wholeheartedly in favor of the proposed ban. We’ve seen firsthand the damage done by single-use plastic bags. Less than 10 percent of plastics are recycled, and many of the rest become litter in the environment.
At RHA’s annual Stream Cleanup Day in April 2019, more than 1,700 volunteers removed 18 tons of trash, litter and recyclables from 46 sites around our watershed. The day’s haul included 3,039 plastic bags and 9,133 plastic bottles.
Had these plastic bags not been removed from rivers and streams, they could have washed downstream to the Atlantic Ocean, endangering marine creatures like dolphins, whales and sea turtles, who often mistake them for food. These creatures can become entangled in plastic bags, choke on them, or die after ingesting them.
Plastic litter also weathers and eventually breaks down into smaller fragments. These microplastics, particles so small as to be nearly invisible, are emerging as a new threat to aquatic life and human health.
Raritan Headwaters recently conducted a pilot study in the South Branch of the Raritan River – generally considered a clean river – and found microplastics in every single sample collected. Microplastics have also been found in public drinking water supplies and even in bottled water.
To prevent plastic pollution in our water – and on our land, and in our air, in our food supply and in our bodies – the smartest place to start is by eliminating single-use plastics. The average plastic grocery store carryout bag is used for only 12 minutes before being discarded! Replacing single-use plastic bags with reusable bags will save New Jersey untold amounts of plastic pollution.
Yes, it’s less convenient to remember to bring bags with you. But like brushing your teeth or using your seatbelt, it’s a matter of habit. Once people are used to bringing reusable bags on shopping trips, it won’t seem like a big deal. Seventeen towns and Atlantic County have already passed their own plastic bag bans.
And if anyone forgets reusable bags, the proposed law as currently written allows stores to charge consumers a dime for a paper bag.
The proposed law also prohibits polystyrene foam food service products, like Styrofoam cups and clam-shell food containers, and single-use plastic straws. Styrofoam products aren’t needed … just ask McDonalds, which many years ago replaced polystyrene foam cups and food containers with cardboard. And anyone whose disabilities require them to use a straw for drinking would still be able to request a plastic straw.
Please support S2776 and its Assembly companion bill, A4330, for the sake of clean water and a healthy environment.
Contact Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and ask him to move bill number A4330 forward to a vote before the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. To send him an email, go to https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/bio.asp?Leg=319.
And please contact your home district’s state Senator and Assembly representatives today and urge them to vote yes on the plastic bag ban. To find your elected officials, go to https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/SelectMun.asp and type in your municipality.