The newest version of a measure banning plastic bags and straws calls for imposing a 10-cent fee on paper bags and providing exemptions to small businesses.
Under the measure, Senate Bill 2776, which the Senate Environment Committee approved in a 4-1 vote after several hours of testimony Thursday, persons, stores and restaurants would be barred from selling or giving out plastic bags, Styrofoam containers or plastic straws.
“It is a huge environmental problem,” Senate Environment Chair Bob Smith, D-17th District, said of plastics pollution as he opened the committee, which was packed with environmental and business activists. “It may be as big as a problem as the global warming problem on the planet. Serious stuff.”
Stores would be required to impose a 10-cent fee on paper bags, of which 5 cents goes back to the business and the other 5 cents goes toward a newly created Plastic Pollution Prevention Fund, which will be run by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Businesses can apply for a one-year waiver annually with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection if they make under $500,000 in gross income or demonstrate that they cannot absorb the costs of phasing out plastic and Styrofoam products
The ban on Styrofoam and plastics, as well as the 10-cent fee, would take effect one year after the governor signs the bill.
– Senate Environmental chair Bob Smith
“It requires New Jersey citizens to change their lifestyle,” Smith said. “When you go get your groceries, you’re going to be bringing your reusable bags.”
First-time offenders would be fined $500, followed by $1,000 for a second violation and $5,000 for a third. Each day the violation continues would constitute a separate offense.
Environmental activists hailed the bill as a measure that would help New Jersey become a national trailblazer in environmental protection.
Businesses testified the ban would hurt their bottom line, pass more costs onto consumers and lead many to shutter.
“These are employers,” said Michael Egenton, executive vice president of government relations at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. “If you’re going to go down this pathway, you should understand not only the environmental implications, but for sure the economic consequences.”
“If you’re a small business, a mom-and-pop, a nonprofit, a hospital, and Styrofoam is the product that you need to be able to keep in business, you should be able to buy it,” said Paul Pao, a government affairs coordinator for Dart Container, a global shipping corporation.
The bill would cause a dramatic shift for the state’s businesses, including the food industry and restaurants, said Dennis Hart, who heads the Chemistry Council of New Jersey.
And two food industry advocates, the New Jersey Food Council and New Jersey Farm Bureau, said the state needed a permanent carve-out for grocery stores, farmers markets and other food stores, so they can safely and sanitarily handle and package raw meat, poultry, seafood and poultry.