New Jersey would ban carryout plastic bags, plastic straws and Styrofoam food containers, if a bill endorsed Thursday by the Senate environment committee becomes law.

It’s got at least four hurdles to go – and then would not take effect for a year, to be followed a year after that by a new 10-cent fee on paper bags. The paper bag fee is designed to compel shoppers to bring reusable bags but delayed to give them time to change their habits.

Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said plastic bags, plastic straws and Styrofoam containers are included in the ban because those are the products having the greatest impact on New Jersey waterways and the environment.

“This is a serious environmental and public health crisis,” Smith said.

Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex, said the proposed law is needed because pollution from plastics will only get worse if baby steps are taken.

“We need a change of behavior. It’s going to be hard, absolutely hard, for everybody, but it’s something that we need to do,” Greenstein said.

Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset, said the decisions aren’t easy, as lawmakers try to balance the public’s interest with those of businesses and manufacturers. He backed the bill, S2776, while Sen. Steve Oroho, R-Sussex, was the only opponent in the committee’s 4-1 vote.

“And I will be criticized for this vote. Believe me, especially as a Republican who likes smaller government and less taxes, I will be criticized,” said Bateman, who suggested delaying the paper bag fee by a year. “But I also think that we have a responsibility to our environment.”

Small businesses would be able to ask the state for exemptions, one year at a time, if they can’t find feasible alternatives. That’s a good thing, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

“We’re not coming in here to say we’re going to tell you exactly how you’re going to live your life. What we’re saying is we have a serious health problem, a serious environmental problem, and we’re going to start grappling with it,” Tittel said.

Douglas Kellogg, state projects director at Americans for Tax Reform, said the changes are overaggressive, would cause intended consequences and chase away jobs.

“The straw ban is frankly based on a moral panic, driven by social-media era virtue signaling and phony numbers that were crafted by a grade-schooler,” Kellogg said.

Mary Ellen Peppard, assistant vice president for government affairs for the New Jersey Food Council, also worries about unintended consequences.

“For example, how would the issue of the juice boxes, Capri Sun, things like that, how would they be addressed?” Peppard said. “If the straws were banned, we would assume that those type of products for sale would also be banned.”

People with disabilities would be allowed to continue to request plastic straws, if they’re needed because alternatives cannot work for them.

A month ago, Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a bill that would have imposed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags and preventing any more municipalities from adopting bans or fees of their own. More than a dozen cities and towns in the state have done so.


New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.


Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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