Senate Bill 2776 would bar persons, stores and restaurants from selling or giving out single-use plastics. It would also impose a 10 cent fee on paper bags, of which 5 cents would go back to the business owner.
“We’re like 99 percent there,” Senate Environment Chair Bob Smith, D-17th District, and a sponsor of the bill told NJBIZ. “We’re really close to having a bill that most people are going to like.”
Lawmakers approved the measure during the September 2018 Senate Environment Committee meeting, but the measure has since gone nowhere.
In the 14 months since, dozens of towns have enacted their own bans in some form – most recently Camden County banned Styrofoam at any county-run events or facilities.
The question to ban or curtail the use of polystyrene and single-use plastics has been strongly debated by environmentalists and business groups, even though very few debate the harm both of them have on the environment.
Activists argue the law would make New Jersey a national trailblazer in environmental protection. Businesses worry that the ban would hurt their bottom line, pass more costs onto consumers and lead many to shutter.
To that end, the current version of S2776 lets smaller businesses apply for a one-year waiver, if they make less than $500,000 a year or show that they cannot absorb the costs of phasing out plastics and Styrofoam.
Smith said that enough amendments have been made to satisfy most parties involved in hashing out the legislation, but the nature of those amendments is not immediately clear. Much of the debate has centered on what substitutes businesses can implement for Styrofoam given its commonplace usage in food packaging and safety, whether to charge a fee on plastic bags or ban them completely, and whether that fee or ban would extend to paper bags.
“We have to make sure the governor’s going to be involved. Last time, the bill went through and then the governor vetoed it. So we don’t want to do that again,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, D-18th District, who sponsored the lower house version.
She agreed about the hope to have the bill moved through the Legislature and past Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk during lame duck.
Murphy conditionally vetoed a measure in August 2018 that would have levied a 5 cent fee on plastic bags, arguing that the measure would do little to alleviate their usage in the state.
Lawmakers have also looked at phasing out the use of Styrofoam in the state, according to Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-36th District, an effort that other governing bodies across the country have undertaken. In May, Maine became the first state to enact a Styrofoam ban.
In San Diego, the city implemented the first phase of a Styrofoam ban in February, which prohibited the distribution of plastic utensils and straws, and Styrofoam coolers and ice chests, according to Fox 5 News. The second phase came in May, which barred restaurants from selling or giving out Styrofoam food containers.
Lame duck encompasses the two-month window between the midterm elections and the first week of January when lawmakers are sworn into office. During this period, a myriad of unresolved issues could be herded through the state Legislature, such as marijuana legalization and the enactment of a new corporate tax incentive program – after the prior one expired in July.