On Nov. 4, Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the nation’s strongest ban on single-use plastic bags – a gift to our environment that will take effect in May 2022.
Watershed watchdog Raritan Headwaters Association enthusiastically supports the new law, which benefits the health of both humans and wildlife by keeping plastics out of rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs and the ocean.
Of the estimated 100 billion-plus plastic carry-out bags consumed in the United State each year, less than 10 percent get recycled or reused. The rest go to landfills or become litter.
Every year, countless numbers of plastic bags find their way into rivers and streams and are eventually carried to the ocean, where creatures like sea turtles and dolphins mistake them for food and choke on them. Other plastic bags blow into tree branches, becoming an unsightly reminder of our throw-away culture.
Plastic bags that weather in the elements break down into smaller and smaller fragments over time, becoming “microplastics.” Unfortunately, microplastics are now pervasive in the environment.
Fish see these tiny particles of plastic as food and eat them. In this way, microplastics become part of the food chain and can end up in human bodies. Our drinking water, too, can be contaminated with microscopic plastic bits. Even the air we breathe has been found to contain floating microplastics! Although more research is needed, studies suggest that the chemicals found in many plastic products are harmful to human health.
The easiest way to help reduce microplastics in the environment is to stop using so many single-use plastic products!
The new law prohibits food service businesses from giving customers single-use plastic bags and polystyrene food containers. The bans apply to grocery stores 2,500 square feet or larger, restaurants, convenience stores and food trucks, among others. Grocery stores would also be prohibited from handing out paper bags to customers.
There are exemptions for certain plastic items, including:
- Bags wrapping raw meat
- Polystyrene butcher trays
- Bags used for loose items like vegetables and fruit
- Bags that hold fish and insects from pet stores
- Dry cleaning bags
- Newspaper bags
- Bags carrying prescription drugs
The new law also restricts food-service businesses from handing out plastic straws, unless specifically requested by a customer, starting in November 2021.
Although bringing your own reusable bags for shopping has been criticized by some as an inconvenience, it’s a very minor one. Once people get used to bringing their own bags, it becomes a habit – just like brushing your teeth or buckling your seat belt. And don’t be surprised if many people end up preferring reusable bags to single-use bags, since they’re stronger and hold more groceries.
Although the new law doesn’t take effect until May 2022, it’s never too early for people to get into the reusable bag habit. Many New Jerseyans already have; at least 45 New Jersey municipalities and counties have passed their own laws banning single-use plastics. So has New York state.
Try it and see! Reusable bags are made from a variety of materials, including many that are machine washable. Some are made from recycled plastic bottles. They also come in many shapes, including foldable models that stand up on their own and resist tipping once they’re packed up and loaded in your car.
Thanks to Governor Murphy and the state Legislature for taking this important step toward a cleaner environment. And thank you to all who have already made the switch to reusable bags or are considering it in the near future.
Raritan Headwaters Association