January 8, 2020

Local Environmentalists Hoping For State Ban on Plastic Bags

By Anne Levin

Some New Jersey residents fighting for the elimination of single-use plastic bags got a New Year’s Day gift last week when it was announced that 10 towns and one county had banned the bags, plastic straws, and expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam) from further use. But Princeton was not among them.

Local ordinances have outlawed the products in Asbury Park, Bayonne, Camden County, Garfield, Glen Rock, Lamberton, Paramus, Ridgewood, Saddle Brook, Somers Point, and South Orange. But shoppers in Princeton can still use them — at least for now.

Molly Jones, executive director of Sustainable Princeton, said that while Princeton hasn’t passed an ordinance, eliminating single-use plastic bags, straws, and polystyrene is still very much the focus of local efforts. Jones and colleagues are hoping that a bill geared toward that issue, pending in the New Jersey Senate, will pass soon. And the town doesn’t want to interfere with that process.

“We’ve been getting feedback that there is great hope that it’s going to pass during the lame duck session,” Jones said. “So the feeling is, let’s not put a ton of effort when it could soon be passed at the state level. That’s why less energy has been devoted to this lately, because of this hope that it’s going to pass.”

Senate Bill 2776 and Assembly Bill 4330 prohibit use of plastic carryout bags, expanded polystyrene (Styrofoam), and single-use plastic straws. “A person who violates any provision of the bill would be subject to a penalty of up to $5,000 for each offense, and each day during which the violation continues would constitute a separate offense,” the bills read.

Eight states — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont — prohibit single-use bags to be used. Supporters of legislation banning the bags and related products say it will go a long way toward removing toxic plastics that clog waterways. Opponents have included manufacturers of plastics, business and industry groups, and some supermarkets.

The fifth and newest location of McCaffrey’s Food Market, scheduled to open in New Hope, Pa. on Thursday, January 9, has announced a policy of no single-use plastic bags or plastic straws. The company declined to comment on whether a similar policy is in the works for stores in Princeton and West Windsor.

“We find it super encouraging that McCaffrey’s is doing this in New Hope, and we applaud them. But we haven’t heard any news about the Princeton store,” said Jones. “We know that West Windsor has been pushing it.”

The legislation being considered for New Jersey would be welcome by environmentalists, including the Princeton Environmental Commission, which has made the issue a priority for 2020. “The Association of Environmental Commissions has said that this is one of the strictest mandates out there,” said Jones of the proposed law. “So it’s pretty tough. It actually bans plastic bags, single-use plastic straws, and polystyrenes, and puts a 10-cent charge on paper bags. So there are positive cogs in place. We all very much want to see this progress to be made, but we have been hoping it happens at the state level.”