TRENTON – Food banks and food pantries will get an extension, but not an exemption, when New Jersey’s plastic and paper bag ban takes effect.

Legislation that had advanced last month was rewritten after environmental groups objected to a complete carveout for food banks. Instead, they would now receive a six-month extension, giving them until early November to adjust.

The state Department of Environmental Protection would also provide food banks with 500,000 free reusable bags, to be distributed proportional to the share of the population each entity serves.

Maura Toomey, zero waste organizer for Clean Water Action, said all communities should share in the benefits from the reduced use of plastic, including those needing help dealing with hunger. But she acknowledged food banks and food pantries have concerns about the change.

“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Toomey said. “But I do think the six-month extension will give us the time that is necessary to address those and get the support to those communities that need it.”

Anjuli Ramos-Busot, New Jersey director for the Sierra Club, said it is important that food banks have the resources and capacity to make the change.

“We understand that this transition to renewable bags will be difficult for everybody at first, but collectively we can and we will adjust,” Ramos-Busot said. “Our environment has been suffocated by plastic bags, microplastics and polystyrene for too long.”

Lawmakers also reversed course on a portion of the earlier legislation that would have allowed thicker bags made mostly from recycled plastic to qualify as reusable carryout bags that could be sold or distributed beginning May 4.

At issue is whether to allow bags made from low density polyethylene. Mettler Packaging lobbyist Michael DeLoreto said it’s thicker and more durable, made from at least 80% recycled material and able to be recycled again.

“We would submit that the bag that would be allowed pursuant to the amendment would be more environmentally sustainable than any bag allowed by law,” DeLoreto said.

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Zachary Klein, policy attorney for Clean Ocean Action, said LDPE bags were known when the bag ban was approved and intentionally excluded.

“Don’t be fooled,” Klein said. “LDPE is plastic. It is not biodegradable in landfills. And it is considered contamination in compost.”

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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