TRENTON — New Jersey lawmakers moved closer Thursday to banning plastic and paper bags, along with Styrofoam containers, in what would be one of the strictest bans in the nation.
Lawmakers in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee approved an amended version of the bill that calls for single-use plastic bags and paper bags to be banned one year after the law goes into effect.
Styrofoam cups and food containers, like ones used for takeout food, would be banned two years after the law is signed. And large grocery stores would be required to provide reusable bags free to New Jersey residents for the first two months after the ban goes into effect.
“This is a public health crisis,” said State Sen. Bob Smith, cosponsor of the bill. “What we’re doing is the strongest plastics legislation in the United States.”
If enacted, New Jersey would be the ninth state to ban plastic bags amid a nationwide trend to curb plastic and paper use to preserve the environment and reduce the impact of harmful chemicals in humans, animals, and waterways. Philadelphia City Council is expected to enact a related ban next week.
But no state has banned paper bags. Maine passed a ban on Styrofoam cups and containers in May. Montgomery County in Maryland and New York City have also passed such bans.
If enacted, the New Jersey law would supersede any plastic bag bans passed by local towns. Gov. Phil Murphy’s office declined to say if he would sign the legislation. But last year, Murphy vetoed a 5-cent fee the legislature wanted to impose on plastic bags, saying that measure wasn’t strong enough.
Environmental advocates praised Thursday’s vote in Trenton.
“This is a win-win-win. A win for the environment, a win for the economy, and a win for the battle against plastic pollution,” said Jeff Tittel, executive director of New Jersey’s Sierra Club, in a statement.
In 2018, plastic accounted for 81% of litter on New Jersey beaches, according to a report by Clean Ocean Action.
A Rutgers study showed New Jersey rivers that provide drinking water to residents are also filled with “microplastics,” tiny plastic particles that can’t be seen by the naked eye but are regularly ingested by animals and humans, and can increase the risk of cancer.
Businesses that violate any provision of the proposed law would be subject to a warning on first offense but fined up to $1,000 for a second offense and up to $5,000 for successive ones.
Although businesses would put out paper straws under the bill, plastic straws would have to be available on request, at the urging of disability advocates.
Detractors of the bill, including the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, say the ban on Styrofoam would not help the environment and would make it costlier for businesses that have to purchase alternatives to Styrofoam cups and containers.
This is “substituting one piece of litter for another,” said Dennis Hart, a lobbyist for the group.
And lawmakers such as State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D., Essex), who voted yes on the bill in committee Thursday, are worried about the ban on paper bags.