TRENTON – The extension that allowed New Jersey food banks and food pantries to keep using plastic bags has expired, despite their pleas to have that grace period continue beyond the busy holiday season.

The lapse could be temporary, as lawmakers are considering a bill that would give them until February. That bill has not passed, though it is set for a Senate vote Monday. But it hasn’t gotten an Assembly hearing, and the committee to which it’s assigned isn’t due to take it up at its Monday meeting.

“The New Jersey Legislature has not approved further extensions for the exemption,” said Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman Caryn Shinske. “At this time, New Jersey food banks and food pantries are required to follow all provisions of the single-use plastics law.”

Through the extension expired Nov. 4, the DEP is advising a go-slow approach toward enforcing the ban.

Guidance to county and municipal enforcement agencies in an Oct. 21 letter from the DEP’s Division of Waste and Underground Storage Tank Compliance and Enforcement reminds them that violators of the bag ban are subject to a warning for a first offense.

Further, it says “the enforcing agency may allow up to ninety (90) days to comply, in place of the generally recommended thirty (30) days; and/or provide a reasonable extension for good cause (i.e. awaiting shipment/receipt of replacement carryout bags).”

It cites “the upcoming holiday and winter seasons that often create increased demand for food banks and pantry services” and two bills pending in the Legislature that would further extend the deadline.

A 90-day period to comply would essentially give food banks the three-month extension they’re seeking through the Legislature.

Food banks and food pantries can use single-use paper carryout bags or reusable bags. It recommends that people donate any surplus reusable carryout bags, in good condition, to them.

The DEP continues to allocate $500,000 per year, plus a one-time $600,000 disbursement, to the state Clean Communities Council to promote the law’s public information and education campaign and to distribute free reusable carryout bags to food pantries and food banks.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com

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