Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill on Wednesday that bans Styrofoam containers, and paper and single-use plastic bags over the upcoming years, in what environmentalists say will be the most far-reaching move of its kind in the nation.
Starting in May 2022, businesses such as restaurants, convenience stores, food trucks, movie theaters and grocery stores occupying at least 2,500 square feet are prohibited from giving out polystyrene containers and plastic and paper bags.
And beginning in November 2021, straws can only be given to customers who request them.
“Plastic bags are one of the most problematic forms of garbage, leading to millions of discarded bags that stream annually into our landfills, rivers, and oceans,” Murphy said in a Wednesday afternoon statement.
Exemptions apply to bags used for wrapping raw meat; Styrofoam butcher trays; bags used for loose produce; those that hold fish and insects from pet stores; and bags for prescription drugs, newspapers and dry-cleaning.
The bill also aims to encourage carryout reusable bags, be it those made “of polypropylene, PET nonwoven fabric, nylon, cloth, hemp products, or other machine-washable fabric.”
“Environmental activists and supporters of this bill have been waiting years for this moment. Plastic pollution has caused untold damage to the environment and to our public health,” Senate Environment Chair Bob Smith, D-17th District, and the bill’s sponsor, said on Wednesday. “Taking action to fight plastic pollution now is key to moving toward a plastic-free future.”
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection can grant a one-year waiver to the Styrofoam ban if a business has no “feasible and commercially available alternative,” or if it makes less than $500,000 in yearly gross income.
The measure also allocates $500,000 to the NJDEP for a program to provide free, reusable bags throughout the state. And, to see the state create a Plastics Advisory Council within the NJDEP to gauge the effectiveness of the new restrictions.
“This is a major win in our battle against plastic pollution. This is the most comprehensive and strongest plastic bill in the nation,” Jeff Tittel, director of the environmental group the New Jersey Sierra Club, said Wednesday.
“This new law will protect New Jersey from plastic that not only hurts the environment but also endangers our wildlife and public health,” Tittel added.
During 2018 and 2019, the bill lurched forward in fits and starts, with lawmakers and the governor’s office at odds over a timeline for when bans should go into effect, whether they should cover paper bags or just levy a fee on them, what could define a bag as reusable versus single-use, and which businesses should be exempt.
The bill passed in early March, but took a backseat during the pandemic.
Business groups panned it, like the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, which lobbies for chemical manufacturers. “This bill impacts manufacturing plants in New Jersey, and New Jersey jobs during this terrible economic [sic] and pandemic time period,” the CCNJ’s president, Dennis Hart, said in September.