Plastic Bags

New Jersey Bill Would Crack Down on Both Plastic and Paper Bags

For the first two months of the ban, stores would be required to give out free reusable bags instead.

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"Paper or plastic?" may soon be a superfluous question in New Jersey.

On Thursday, the state Senate's Budget and Appropriations Committee advanced a bill that would ban grocery stores from giving customers either paper or plastic bags. Businesses would be required to give customers free reusable bags instead.

That last requirement will be in place for just the first two months after the ban takes effect. After that, customers will have to either bring their own bags or be prepared to carry loose groceries home in their arms.

A flat ban on single-use bags is radical, to say the least. New Jersey would be the first state to do it. New York and California have restricted themselves to banning only plastic bags.

The idea for New Jersey's more far-reaching restrictions reportedly came to the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Bob Smith (D–Middlesex), during his vacation to Aruba. There, plastic bags are banned and paper bags are slapped with heavy fees.

"Nobody's grumbling," Smith told NJ.com back in May. "Everybody in the line, they all do it."

Thursday's vote brings this aspect of island living a little closer to reality in the Garden State.

The bill would also give food service businesses two years to stop using Styrofoam. Plastic straws, a frequent target of anti-plastic activists and lawmakers, got off relatively easy: They won't be banned—but restaurants would be allowed to provide them only on request.

Backers claim the bill will protect New Jersey's natural environment. "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," Smith said in a press release issued after the committee vote.

If this version of the bill becomes law, violators will get a warning on their first offense. A second transgression will land a $1,000 fine, and scofflaws will pay up to $5,000 for their third violation.

The bill makes exceptions for bags used to carry uncooked meat, pharmaceuticals, newspapers, live animals (particularly fish and insects from pet stores), and laundry. It also exempts prepackaged foods from its bans.

Garden State lawmakers have been toying with the idea of restricting plastic bags for some time now. In 2018 the legislature passed a tax on plastic bags, but Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed it—for being too lenient.

Smith and state Sen. Linda Greenstein (D–Mercer) introduced their own bag ban in June 2018. One committee approved it in September, but it stalled in the Budget Committee until yesterday. It now goes to the Senate floor for a second reading.

Not everyone is happy about the proposal.

Paper bag manufacturers argued at yesterday's hearing that their product was a solution to plastic pollution, and that it should therefore be spared.

Michael Deloreto, a spokesperson for the New Jersey Food Council, pointed out that the free reusable bags required by the bill—ones with stitched handles, made of much thicker plastic or cloth, and designed for multiple uses—would cost a grocery store chain with 30 locations more than $20 million for the two months they're required to give them away. In comparison, giving away plastic bags costs about $128,000 a month.

Deloreto argued for letting stores give away slightly cheaper reusable bags. The Food Council says it supports a ban on paper and plastic bags.

Other single-use plastic bag bans have had the unintended side effect of prompting people simply to switch to reusable plastic bags that use much more plastic. Studies of bag bans in California and the U.K. have found that they dramatically increase the consumption of these reusable bags, with many customers treating them the same as single-use plastic bags.

Overall plastic consumption still fell in both cases. But in both California and the U.K., reusable bags were not distributed for free. New Jersey shoppers would face no such deterrent during the first two months of the bag ban, making it possible that in the short term the bill will increase overall plastic consumption.

At yesterday's hearing, ban supporters spoke of the tens of thousands of plastic and Styrofoam items they'd collected off the state's shoreline during an annual beach clean-up. But the bill would leave the biggest sources of litter untouched. According to a 2018 survey published by a state-funded nonprofit, the New Jersey Clean Communities Council (NJCCC), neither plastic bags nor paper bags were among the state's top 10 most littered items (which account for 43 percent of all litter). Styrofoam food containers didn't make the top 10 either. It instead featured things like tire scraps, business papers, plastic water bottles, and tobacco packaging and accessories.

Bags of all kinds made up 4.9 percent of litter. Unbranded retail bags made up 1.7 percent.

The results from the Ocean Conversancy's 2019 coastal cleanup were similar. Volunteers collected 37,440 items of trash off New Jersey's beaches, including 5,928 cigarette butts, 5,981 candy wrappers, and 1,047 plastic grocery bags—about 3 percent of all items collected.

The NJCCC survey includes a number of policy recommendations that don't involve banning items, including forging anti-litter partnerships with stores and other businesses that are litter hotspots, promoting more adopt-a-highway and adopt-a-beach programs, and better placement of public trash receptacles.

Such measures are both more voluntary and more effective. At best, all a bag ban can do is eliminate a tiny percentage of trash while inconveniencing customers and heaping more costs on business.

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  1. “fighting back … to ensure we … evolve our habits.”

  2. After that, customers will have to either bring their own bags or be prepared to carry loose groceries home in their arms.

    Not to support the ban, but do they not have shopping carts in NJ?

    1. Most stores frown upon customers taking the carts home, in my experience.

      1. Most stores frown upon customers taking the carts home, in my experience.

        Are the plastic bags illegal at home too?

      2. Again, not to advocate for the ban but the comment strikes me as ginning up the victimization a bit.

        It doesn’t make the ban right but, yes, after the ban you’ll still have to carry your groceries home using your arms pretty much the way you did before the ban.

        1. I have no idea what you are talking about. It sounded like you were saying people could take their groceries home in a shopping cart.
          I guess you could take them in the cart without bags to your car.

          1. I have no idea what you are talking about.

            It just sounded very much like playing up the victim to me, arguing from a (false) position of weakness.

            Fuck the law, we’ll get our groceries home however we want. Anybody who can’t get their groceries home without free handouts from local merchants and only when those free handouts are allowed by law can go fuck themselves.

            1. I still have no idea what you’re talking about.

        2. Um… What? You take your groceries out of the bags at your car to carry into your home? For most of us, that’s the primary use of bags, especially if you’re in an apartment. Shelf to cart to car is not the problem.

    2. 2-wheel shopping baskets are handy in the city to grocery shop at frequent intervals for small quantities, and wheel groceries home via sidewalk. They’re not handy out in the country where you’re shopping via less frequent car rides carrying larger quantities. Are corrugated cardboard boxes covered by the ban? Stores are full of them since that’s how goods arrive, but they’re heavy and unwieldy once you get them home and need to unload the car.

  3. Can they not simply point out that regular old plastic and paper bags are, in fact, resusable, and there is nothing stopping anyone from saving their plastic grocery bags and reusing them?

    1. That has bad aesthetics. Looks like bag ladies walking around. Reusable plastic bags are more stylish and have clever sayings or cute pictures on them.

      1. Reusable plastic bags are more stylish and have clever sayings or cute pictures on them.

        I’m thinking “FUCK YOUR BAN” with the Statue of Liberty flipping everyone off.

        1. Hmm. Does Cafe Press or some place like that do reusable shopping bags?

        2. Lol. Can I get a slightly less aggressive version so my wife will let me keep it?

  4. “Nobody’s grumbling,” Smith told NJ.com back in May. “Everybody in the line, they all do it.”

    This is how I like to hear my state officials describing their subjects.

    1. I can’t speak for Aruba, but in Europe the people chose to make the switch to reusable bags long before anyone thought of banning single-use ones

      In other words, the people made choice first, then the government codified that choice. We are going the opposite direction here

      1. All of Europe? Seriously? Um, no.

    2. “Speaking with a local farmer on the last day of my recent visit, I asked him if there was any message that he wanted me to carry back home with me. He pondered for a second, and then smiled and said, ‘Help ons alstublieft,’ which is a local saying that means roughly, “A child knows his parents before the parents know their child.'”

  5. Just so you know, it turns out my assertions appear to be correct:

    WASHINGTON, March 24, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A new peer reviewed study finds that commonly used cups, plates and sandwich containers made of polystyrene foam use significantly less energy and water than comparable paper-based or corn-based (polylactic: PLA) alternatives, primarily due to polystyrene foam’s much lower weight.

    The polystyrene foam products create less, similar or more solid waste by volume than alternatives depending on the product and its weight, according to the study, and greenhouse gas emission comparisons vary widely, based on uncertainties over whether paper-based products degrade after disposal.

    The life-cycle inventory and greenhouse gas emissions study(1) compares average-weight polystyrene foam, paperboard and PLA cups used for hot (16 ounce) and cold (32 ounce) drinks, 9-inch dinner plates and “clamshell” sandwich containers(2). Researchers modeled energy consumption, water use, solid waste (by weight and volume) and greenhouse gas emissions for each product resulting from production, transportation and disposal. The peer-reviewed paper updates a 2006 study and incorporates additional data, most notably on greenhouse gas emissions following disposal. Some key findings:

    Energy use: Polystyrene foam products consume significantly less energy than the alternatives – half as much as wax-coated paperboard cups and one-third as much as PLA clamshells.
    Water use: Polystyrene foam products use significantly less water than the alternatives – up to four times less than PLA clamshells.
    Solid waste: Polystyrene foam products create significantly less solid waste by weight than the alternatives – up to five times less than paperboard and PLA products. Comparisons by volume vary widely:

    1. Putting plastics in landfills is a pretty good way to sequester carbon, if you are into that kind of thing.

      1. Putting plastics in landfills is a pretty good way to sequester carbon

        Putting it pretty much anywhere except an incinerator is a good way to sequester carbon. Lots of vinyl siding companies offer lifetime warranties.

        1. I like to try to convince people that well planned landfills are really not anything to worry about.

      2. That’s typical. Can’t fight climate change and plastic at the same time. Same with nuclear energy. Which is why it’s hard to take environmentalists seriously, they don’t seem to beleive the catastrophes they are seeking so much as just want to be trendy and annoy us normies.

  6. “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,”

    This legislation is a continuation of the path to slowly leading the populace into complete subjugation by small degrees, always hanging the reductions in freedom on either ‘safety’ or ‘the environment’.

    I assume the legislation also accepts full and unlimited liability for the state in any case of illness or other harm caused by continuous reuse of formaldehyde laced cloth bags from China.
    Wait, no?

  7. Businesses would be required to give customers free reusable bags instead.

    “Free.”

    1. Why don’t we just require everything to be free? Think about how much better the world would be.

      1. Well, that’s one way to get rid of the federal reserve bank

  8. “The idea for New Jersey’s more far-reaching restrictions reportedly came to the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Bob Smith (D–Middlesex), during his vacation to Aruba.”

    Did he SAIL there?

    Europeans don’t bitch about restrictive abortion laws. Let’s do those next!

    “Backers claim the bill will protect New Jersey’s natural environment. “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,” Smith said in a press release issued after the committee vote.”

    New Jersey’s natural environment is kinda shitty, ya know.

    NJ: Too dumb to pump their own gas or manage the most minor aspects of life.

    1. NJ: Too dumb to pump their own gas or manage the most minor aspects of life.

      So the “Without plastic or paper bags being handed to me I’ll just have to carry groceries in my arms!” statement was accurate.

    2. >>New Jersey’s natural environment is kinda shitty, ya know.

      i’m only commenting to stick up for the woods from Philly –> AC it was a lovely place to grow up in the 80s

      1. I lived in Pleasantville (just outside of AC) in the early 2000’s. It became quite the shit heap.

        1. I’m in Williamstown now (40 miles up the AC Xpwy). Everything between me and AC is in a state of decay.

        2. i hate to hear all that. my backyard was two ymca camps w/lakes

  9. Paper bag manufacturers argued at yesterday’s hearing that their product was a solution to plastic pollution, and that it should therefore be spared.

    And plastic bag manufacturers argued that their product was a solution to paper pollution, and that it should therefore be spared.

    Problem solved.

  10. In the People’s Republic of NJ, nothing surprises me.

    1. I’m surprised that aluminum cans aren’t targeted.

      1. Cans are much less of a problem because you can make money picking them up.

        1. I remember reading figures from aluminum, canning, and scrap industries saying 50 to 60 per cent of aluminum cans are recycled. The rest end up in land fills. And this is probably the best result the recycling business can show us. A switch from aluminum cans to returnable bottles seems the next logical step.

  11. In a related story, salmonella, staph & strep bacteria held a rally to plan their triumphant return to “the Garden State”.

    NJ: trying to outstupid CA, NY and MA.

    1. It’ll probably do their immune systems good. People are free to wash or disinfect their bags. I don’t think that’s a good argument against this. The only argument you should need is that it’s nobody’s goddamn business but the store’s whether they want to provide free bags to their customers.

      1. They are not “free”. They are already priced into the food. Like the labor price to check people out that they also want to do away with. My biggest problem with the reusable bag deal is the added time to check out now. Have you seen these old ladies with their bags slowly putting one item in, then opening another bag and slowly putting one item in….. for ten minutes!

        1. Yes, that’s the problem. The disposable bags come packed in bulk in a way the cashiers can quickly open on a frame and pack with goods. Reusable bags won’t be standardized to fit a frame, let alone be packaged densely, so they’ll all be bag-your-own. And it will be slow. I know I’m not good at bagging, and I’m not eager to practice my skills.

          Well, what the heck…the supermarket got us to do half the job already, going down aisles of stock to find what we want instead of the traditional grocery model of telling the counter person what you want. I’ve done the whole online automated ordering thing, wherein they provide the option of pickup (for a fee to assemble your order) or delivery (for another fee on top of that); having to bag your own goods makes that model more attractive, except for the lead times they demand.

      2. As a libertarian, I heartily agree that it’s “nobody’s goddamn business”, but I’m trying to come up with plausible arguments to use against the “we’ll tell you how to live” crowd.

        In the bluest of towns in SE Massachusetts where I have the misfortune of working, the local independent grocery store has gone back to paper bags, no grumbling, no direct charge, and we’re right back where we were 20 yrs ago (when, for the record, I was not that thrilled with the thin plastic bags, which were either over filled, or I had too many. Of course, now I have a dog, so these things are a useful commodity.)

  12. The supermarkets here in Sussex County, NJ for years have had bag recycling programs, taking plastic bags from their own and other stores. I’ve no idea what they do with them, but my friends seem to think it’s a good idea, so I put bags in the receptacles at the store, although we still use a few to contain garbage.

    The main inconvenience with having to bring your own bags is not having to supply your own bags, but having to pack the goods in them yourself. I can’t imagine they’ll have cashiers taking the motley bags we bring them and filling them, so all lines will become bag-your-own. And then why not do the whole self-checkout as long as that step’s the customer’s responsibility anyway?

    I think I might just eat the extra expense and get delivery, which will probably arrive in (more convenient) boxes. For almost my entire first year here I had no car and relied mostly on delivery. It makes me wonder whether grocers will look at the big picture, close many of their supermarkets, and convert to delivery business.

    1. I get my groceries delivered by Shoprite. They don’t box them, they use bags. Recently they’ve brought a shopping cart along with them, and they just wheel the whole thing into my kitchen.

      Shoprite’s a good group if you want delivery. The fee isn’t much for a large order, and they show up when they say they will. One drawback is they seem to have a smaller selection – sometimes sale items aren’t listed on line (case in point – the whole beef tenderloin on sale next week for $7.99/lb).

      1. Delivery by ShopRite and Peapod had been in bags, but after the ban I expect boxes.

  13. Free? Hardly. The price of all those bags will be added into the cost of the food or whatever product is being sold. People will forget to bring their previously used bags and the consumer will eventually end up with dozens of bags lying around the house and they will get thrown out, possibly ending up in landfills. Liberals are dumber than donuts with this back and forth between paper and plastic. Use paper, there are billions of trees and paper degrades a whole lot quicker than plastic.

    1. “Use paper, there are billions of trees and paper degrades a whole lot quicker than plastic.”

      Do you come from some treeless wasteland? Those of us born and raised around, in and under trees would never think of trees and forests so wantonly. Use paper or plastic, but use it again. Idea: design a paper bag that could be folded up and incorporated into every day clothing as a kind of fashion accessory. Example: instead of a hankie in your breast pocket, a tastefully arranged paper bag.

  14. So Aruba is our model for a progressive civilization?

  15. Liberals hate freedom, unless it involves a sexual deviant shooting off inside another man’s tuchis.

  16. Actual reusable bags, or the slightly thicker plastic bags that have replaced them but cost 10 cents, like the NJ city I live in? A lot of people do just bring reusable fabric bags or just carry them if it’s only 1-2 items now where they didn’t before, but I’m not sure it’s ultimately saving plastic because most people just eat the 10 cent per bag charge and throw out the ‘reusable’ bags because they actually suck for reuse.

    1. “A lot of people do just bring reusable fabric bags or just carry them if it’s only 1-2 items now where they didn’t before”

      There’s a saying about old dogs (lots of those around here) and new tricks. We’ll see the impact of these laws in 10 years or so as impressionable youngsters grow up into responsible consumers. It won’t stop at bags and straws either, aluminum cans are looking like the next low hanging fruit.

  17. It’s a Jersey thing.

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