A bill banning single-use plastic and paper bags at New Jersey retailers was not passed in the now-expiring legislative session, though the idea’s chief proponent says it will be taken up again in two weeks as the new term begins.

The bill, which was amended last week to allow two years before plastic and paper carryout bags would be prohibited, was passed Monday by the Senate in a 21-14 vote but wasn’t taken up by the Assembly. It would also end the use of Styrofoam food service products and limit though not ban plastic straws.

Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, said over the last two and a half weeks, the plastics industry “made a huge pitch that instead of eliminating plastic bags, there should be thicker, reusable plastic bags.”

“The state of California did that in their legislation, and they now regret it terribly because what’s happened is you have a large use of these thicker plastic bags. They haven’t gotten the plastics out of the waste stream,” Smith said.

Smith said New Jersey officials talked with California counterparts and were told “don’t make the same mistake we did.”

The bill – S2776/AS4330, though it will get a new number in the new session – passed the Senate without debate and with the minimum number of votes needed for passage.

Two Republicans – Kip Bateman, R-Somerset, and Chris Brown, R-Atlantic – joined 19 Democrats in voting for the bill. Sen. Joe Cryan, D-Union, joined 13 Republicans in voting no. Five Democrats who were present didn’t vote: Dawn Addiego, Nilsa Cruz-Perez, Nellie Pou, Ron Rice and Nick Sacco.

Senate President Steve Sweeney, D-Gloucester, said the Senate voted on the bill even though it was apparent it wouldn’t be posted in the Assembly because “we wanted to make our position clear in the Senate, where we stand with it.”

“The reason for doing both of them, paper and plastic, is a paper bag is 8 cents. And when they banned plastic in New York, the paper bag went to 35 cents. And they’re even having a hard time getting the paper bag,” Sweeney said. “So we feel if we do it in New Jersey, it will be 50, 60 cents a bag. And they’ll pass that on to the consumer, and we don’t want that.”

Smith said the plastics bill will be taken up at the Senate Environment and Energy Committee meeting on Jan. 30, then head to the Senate floor without being referenced to the budget committee. He said a food waste bill will also be taken up at that hearing.

“I’m hoping that we can get it done quickly in the next session,” Smith said. “But I do think every municipality in the state should plan their own plastic bag ban. That would be a very good thing to do. And we in the state failed everybody. We couldn’t get it done. But we’re going to try that much harder when the new session starts.”

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Doug O’Malley, state director of Environment New Jersey, said that usually it is believed that bills that fall short in a lame-duck session have a hard time generating momentum in the next session.

“The thing that’s different with the fight on banning single-use plastics is that this is not just a Trenton issue,” he said. “We’ve seen a multitude of towns and cities all around New Jersey – from the Shore to Jersey City to Camden County – that have worked to ban single-use plastics. That momentum is going to carry over into the new session.”

O’Malley said his organization would support either a fee on paper bags or a ban on paper bags as part of the legislation.


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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