5-cent fee on plastic, paper shopping bags approved by NJ Legislature

BY Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2 |MonroeNow | Jun 22, 2018

State lawmakers on Thursday approved a regulation that would establishes a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper shopping bags this week.

The measure now heads to Governor Murphy’s desk for approval or veto.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, helped to champion the bill through the Legislature said it was designed to reduce plastic litter from the environment that ends up in waterways. The fee, which is imposed on the shopper, is meant to enourage using reusable bags.

“Most stores have made the change and now provide more environmentally friendly bags for customers,” said Huttle. “This bill encourages more stores to get on board and move away from using the bags that are harmful to the environment.”

But the measure has been met with some resistance from leading environmental advocates, such as Doug O’Malley – executive director of Environment New Jersey –  who, while supports the concept, notes it blocks towns from requiring a higher fee on plastic and paper bags or banning them outright.

According to multiple reports, American Progressive Bag Alliance also opposes the fee. Its executive director, Matt Seaholm, contends that at some businesses using reusable bags may not be an option, for instance McDonald’s, where certain products come in paper containers.

The money raised from the 5-cent fee would direct 4 cents to the state’s lead-abatement programs, which some worry, such as the New Jersey Sierra Club, that the state may divert those funds to other programs.

“Plastic bags are very disruptive to the environment,” said Nancy Pinkin, D-Middlesex. “They wash up in our waterways, are hazardous to marine life and even pollute the air when burned at landfills. This can help encourage more stores to make environmentally responsible choices when it comes to shopping bags.”

Not all establishments, however, would have to impose the fee. According to the bill, a store is defined as a drug store, supermarket, or retail establishment that has more than 2,000 square feet of retail space or is part of a chain, and that provides carryout bags to its customers as a result of the sale of a product; and single-use carryout bag is defined as any bag that is not a reusable carryout bag, and would include single-use compostable and non-compostable plastic bags and paper bags. The definition would not include any non-handled bag intended to separate and prevent an item from damaging or contaminating another item.

The bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection to create a public information program to address the environmental effects caused by single-use carryout bags, and encourages shoppers to use reusable bags for retail shopping. The program would include information on the fee charged for single-use carryout bags pursuant to the bill.