Plastic Bags

New Jersey Gov. Vetoes Plastic Bag Fee Because It Doesn't 'Go Far Enough'

Environmental groups hope for an outright ban instead.


Ron Sachs/SIPA/Newscom

New Jersey's governor vetoed a plastic bag fee today, but not because he's reluctant to regulate the product. He just doesn't think the 5-cent-a-bag charge is enough.

In a statement today, Gov. Phil Murphy praised the reasoning behind the measure. Single-use carryout bags, the Democrat said, "represent a significant source of the litter that clutters our communities and mars New Jersey's beautiful shoreline and parks." They can also "cripple water infrastructure" and threaten wildlife, he added.

But Murphy couldn't support the "incomplete and insufficient" bill. "Instituting a five-cent fee on single-use bags that only applies to certain retailers does not go far enough to address the problems created by overreliance on plastic bags and other single-use carryout bags," he said. "In order to make a real difference, a single-use bag program must be devised and 2 applied more broadly and consistently in a manner that would avoid loopholes that undermine the ultimate purpose of the program."

Murphy's comments are consistent with criticism from advocacy groups, many of whom also opposed the measure. Though Murphy didn't mention any specific alternatives, there's been speculation that New Jersey could follow in the footsteps of California and Hawaii by implementing an outright ban. Almost 20 New Jersey towns have already banned plastic bags.

In June, state Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) introduced a bill that would ban plastic bag and straws as well as Styrofoam cups. With Murphy having rejected the plastic bag fee, Smith tells the North Jersey Record that "there is a lot of momentum for a ban, and I think we'll have it done by the end of the year."

Amy Goldsmith, executive director of Clean Water Action, expressed similar sentiments. "We couldn't get to a ban with a fee bill," she explains to the Record. "You would see a reduction at first, but then the numbers would have gone up. But after a while, who's going to remember the 5 cents? People will just start paying."

In recent months, many local governments have implemented bans on plastic products, particularly straws. Such intrusive measures rarely do much good. As Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward pointed out in 2015, plastic bags make up a tiny percentage of the waste humans produce. "The 2009 Keep America Beautiful Survey," Mangu-Ward wrote, "shows that all plastic bags, of which plastic retail bags are only a subset, are just 0.6 percent of visible litter nationwide."

Banning plastic bags might make some environmentalists feel good, but that's about it.