“Might sound crazy, but it ain’t no lie, baby bye, bye bye.” – N’Sync
That lyric from the boy band’s late ‘90s popular hit sums up what’s happening this week with stores supplying plastic bags: no more, bye bye.
Sure, it’s convenient.
You go to the grocery store hit self check out and there, waiting for you neatly spread out between two perfectly spaced silver holders are several plastic bags awaiting your input of items after you scan them. Prepare to bring your own bag.
This multi-facet bill is aimed at the excessive plastic pollution caused by Jersey’s food service and retail industries. Its first phase rolled out in November with a partial ban on plastic straws. Now, as of May 4, New Jersey retailers and food service businesses will no longer be allowed to use or distribute single-use plastic bags. This comes per a bill passed by Gov. Phil Murphy and other lawmakers. Businesses found in violation of the ban will be given a warning for a first offense, a fine of up to $1,000 per day for a second offense, and a fine up to $5,000 per day for a third violation.
Inspectors will be out there.
“Part of the ban is already in effect as single-use plastic straws are now available only upon request,” said Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC). “This is to ensure that people who need straws have access to them while still reducing our single-use plastic that pollutes our drinking water and environment.”
ANJEC, a non-profit that assists New Jersey environmental commissions, individuals, local and state agencies preserve natural resources and promote sustainable communities.
According to its website, “The mission of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions is to achieve responsible and sustainable use of New Jersey’s natural resources and protection of environmental health.
“Grocery stores that are less than 2,500 square feet, and all retail stores are allowed to continue to hand out paper bags for free,” Coffey said. “Paper bags are also less environmentally-friendly than reusable bags for several reasons; first, they are heavier which means they cost more carbon emissions to transport. Second, their production is water-intensive. Third, New Jerseyans current paper bag consumption equates to 1,000 football fields of trees being cut down every year. We encourage everyone to get in the habit of bringing reusable bags every time they go to the store.”
New Jerseyans can bring any kind of receptacle they want when shopping.
“The ban is on what is allowed to be provided for free at point of sale to customers, not what customers are allowed to bring,” she explained. “Customers can bring whatever they’d like in which to put their purchases--including those single-use plastic bags that are taking up space under your kitchen sink. Companies can find vendors for acceptable bags at New Jersey Business Action Center’s clearinghouse: https://business.nj.gov/Vendors.
New Jersey is also purchasing 500,000 reusable bags and distributing them to food pantries around the state, so people who use food pantries can get free bags if necessary.”
ANJEC is an over-50 year old organization that helps local officials make “good decisions” about the environment.
“Over the last few years, ANJEC and other partners have helped pass nearly 150 local ordinances that restrict plastic in some way. At the same time,” Coffey said. “ANJEC worked with the legislature to create a uniform statewide policy to reduce some of the most prevalent single-use plastics that have already existing alternatives including single-use bags and polystyrene foam food containers.”
ANJEC has worked extensively with the NJDEP to educate and equip local officials and businesses to help prepare for the transition to re-usables.
“ It was a team effort that involved environmental commissions, local officials, partner organizations, the legislature, and the administration,” Coffey said. “The Bag Ban is an important step in reducing the amount of single-use materials ending up in landfills or as litter,” said Dawn Latincsics, CSP, Recycling Coordinator, Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority. “It may take residents a few trips to the store until it becomes a habit to grab reusable bags, but the small effort required has a large return for the environment. I hope residents will be inspired by the Bag Ban to evaluate other way in which they might positively impact the environment through waste reduction and reuse.”
“This has been the case in Europe for a very long time,” said Mary O’Sullivan of Layton. She’s traveled the world with her husband, Marcus, who is a four-time Olympian. “They charge for bags if you forget to bring your own. I think it’s a great idea and we should’ have done this a long time ago.”
Sparta Township held a meeting on April 28 to discuss what will be going on with bag bans with the public.
“I am proud that the Township offered this information sharing meeting for Sparta residents and business owners,” Sparta Township Councilman Dan Chiariello said. “This event was unique in that it provided everyone with an opportunity to ask specific questions of our presenter. I and others from the township have played no role in this new statewide ban. This is enacted at the state level. We are here to help Sparta residents and businesses adapt to the changes.”
Dean Blumetti is the Chairman of the Sparta Township Environmental Commission.
“Sparta’s Environmental Commission was very pleased to have offered Thursday evening’s Plastic Bag Ban educational event for the community.,” he said. “The event went very well, with a combination of local residents and businesses joining in-person and via Zoom to hear an expert from ANJEC (Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions) give a 20-30 minute presentation and then answer specific questions from the audience. The most important information shared included how the new law applies to different types and sizes of businesses, how and why the law applies to paper bags, how reusable carryout bags are defined, and finally -- the reasons why New Jersey is taking this step. “
Julie Lucente of Bryan said it will take her some adjustment to remember to carry reusable bags with her, but she said the only downside would be the leftover plastic bags under the sink ready to be used whenever they were needed.
“From an environmental perspective it’s the right call and I’m surprised it’s taken this long,” Lucente said.