The casual question in the checkout line has always been “Paper or Plastic?”
But if you see what is steadily happening in the market, the answer has become a resounding “Neither!”
With the Senate set to take up Senate bill 2776 – which would ban plastic single-use bags and reportedly phase out the use paper bags – we are learning that this initiative is not groundbreaking. In fact, passing such laws is becoming commonplace, driven by the tremendous environmental pressure in the marketplace and an international demand to greatly reduce the amount of plastics on this planet.
The issue has evolved far beyond saving the environment or limiting solid waste. The debate now swirls around rising costs, an ever-shrinking supply of paper bags and the obvious, logical need for a universal policy that ensures all businesses – no matter what town or city in which they reside – are following the same rules, with expectations shared by all consumers.
These issues are all relevant in New Jersey right now. The retail community is bracing for New York to begin imposing a statewide ban on most types of single-use plastic bags from retail sales on March 1, and Connecticut and Delaware plastic bag bans will go into effect later next year.
As New York businesses prepare to comply with the plastic bag ban that will affect millions of people, market forces are wreaking havoc across the Hudson River. New Jersey paper bag makers are now overrun with orders, sending out notices of double-digit increases and urging New Jersey retailers to only order the bags they absolutely need.
Feeding the problem is the fact that most paper bag suppliers have already prepared for the future: retrofitting their plants for exploding e-commerce and the growing need for cardboard boxes. Now they are being sucked back into an old industry, which will require millions more paper bags a year, requiring three to five years of manufacturing just to meet the demand.
It is simple Economics 101, the greater demand on the paper bag supply chain, the higher costs for retailers and consumers. With the single-use bag market in impending turmoil, it is time for the state Legislature to act.
Industry and environmental groups are doing what they can to help by encouraging New Jersey consumers to bring their own reusable bags to shop. To spread the message, there is a recently launched informational campaign called “Choose to Reuse” led by the New Jersey Clean Communities Council and the New Jersey Food Council.
Both entities are urging New Jerseyans to recognize the only cost-effective, environmentally friendly solution is to simply say “No, thank you” at the cash register and use their own bags.
Just like we remember our car keys, smartphones and shopping lists, customers can bring their reusable bags too. This small change in behavior recognizes our changing times and supports a sound environmental solution.
The state Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy can help expedite that change by supporting this ban on both single-use plastic and paper bags. A state law would supersede all local ordinances, now comprising various requirements based on municipal boundaries, and ensure shoppers and business owners are following the same rules.
Now is the time for New Jersey to take a step forward with a statewide standard to ban both plastic and paper single-use bags.
Rocco D’Antonio is managing member at Organic Diversion LLC, a Marlton-based food and organics recycling company.
This article was updated at 8:40 a.m. EST on Dec. 5, 2019 to reflect a potential change in the language of S2776.s