TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senate Environment and Energy Committee Chair Bob Smith and Senator Linda Greenstein that would prohibit stores and food service businesses from providing single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene foam food service products to their customers passed the Senate Environment and Energy Committee today.
“We cannot afford to wait any longer to act while our waterways and ecosystems suffer,” said Senator Smith (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “The amount of plastic in our oceans will soon outweigh all of the fish in the ocean combined. Plastic bag bans have proven effective elsewhere. Los Angeles saw a ninety-four percent drop in single-use bags. This legislation is us fighting back to ensure we have clean oceans, clean ecosystems and to evolve our habits to include safe alternatives for our environment.”
Plastic bag bans have been implemented in major cities across the United States including Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Minneapolis. Polystyrene bans are currently in place at the municipal level in multiple cities across the country as well.
A study recently reported that Americans use 172 million straws each day and the use of straws is banned in seven cities in the United States, including Seattle, Washington. The bill would allow businesses to provide straws to individuals with a disability or medical condition, upon request.
Beach sweeps from Monmouth County to Cape May County discovered microplastics in the ocean and on the beach. Last year, these sweeps found that more than 80 percent of the beaches’ trash was plastic and that plastic straw waste had increased by 59 percent.
Experts from various organizations’, including Rutgers and Princeton Universities, recently 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 overtime they become tiny microplastics. Carcinogens latch onto microplastics in our waters, and then are filtered and eaten by fish and move up the food chain through human consumption.
“The numbers don’t lie and if you have been to the beach you can see it with your own eyes,” said Senator Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “There is an estimated 150 tons of plastics currently in our oceans and about eight-million additional tons enter each year. It is irresponsible and inexcusable to not utilize alternatives over plastic. We need to stop the damage now.”
The bill, S-2776, would require stores to impose a minimum ten-cents fee on paper bags provided to customers. The store owner would have to pay five cents to the State and can retain the remaining amount. The fee would be dedicated to helping to improve the recycling market in the State.
The money collected by the state would be placed into a newly created “Plastic Pollution Prevention Fund.” Additionally, any penalties collected as a result of violating this legislation would be placed into the fund, which would be dedicated to establishing programs and grants to facilitate development of the state’s recycling industry and would support educational programs and materials on reusable alternatives to single use plastics.
Those in violation of any provision of the bill would be subject to a penalty of up to $500 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, municipalities and counties certified under the “County Environmental Health Act” would have authority to enforce the provisions of the bill.
The state would be required to establish a program to assist businesses with complying with provisions of the bill.
The DEP would produce an annual report on how the funds were spent and a separate report within one year containing recommendations for additional measures the state can take to reduce single-use plastics and plastic waste.
The ban on plastics and the paper bag fee would take effect one year from its signing.
The bill released by committee by a vote of 4-1, and next heads to the full Senate for further consideration.