Consider this: Plastic carryout bags are used for an average of just 12 minutes but live on in our environment for hundreds of years. Created from oil, plastic bags are non-biodegradable, harm wildlife, debilitate recycling facilities and pose threats to public health.
At least 600 species of wildlife have been harmed by plastic pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Seabird species such as ospreys and cormorants are particularly vulnerable to the effects of ingesting plastic particles, leading to intestinal blockage and reproductive failure. To paint an even bigger picture, projections warn that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.
In a state where residents use approximately 4.4 billion bags each year, it’s clear that we don’t have any time to waste to bag up this mess. The good news is that the wheels are in motion.
A bill that would impose a 5-cent fee on carryout bags currently awaits Gov. Phil Murphy’s pen, but it needs some work. NJ Audubon is urging the governor to conditionally veto A3267/S2600 to close significant loopholes that would exclude certain populations and stores from complying, allow stores to provide thicker plastic bags to customers free of charge, and preempt municipalities from passing their own bag laws.
This is not a bad bill, and a bag fee will certainly not be bad for our environment as some reports have claimed. Rather, it’s an excellent first step to curb the use of plastic bags through behavior change that can be made significantly stronger with a few amendments.
Fees across the U.S. have dramatically reduced and prevented plastics from entering our environment. Washington, D.C.’s 2010 implementation of a 5-cent bag fee resulted in a 60 percent reduction in plastic waste. Six months after Boulder, Colorado implemented a 10-cent bag fee, use of single-use bags declined 68 percent.
Completely eliminating plastic bags is a goal shared by many. However, reducing plastic bag use by more than half within months of enactment cannot be called anything but progress. The current bill grandfathers in all cities and counties that pass ban ordinances before the governor signs the bill. Jersey City, the second largest city in the state, is the latest to act to ban bags. If the governor strengthens the bill on his desk, hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans will be covered under a bag ban and the rest of the state will comply with a fee, reducing bag pollution significantly in the near term.
This is a first step, not the end of the discussion. A hybrid structure, popularly demonstrated in California, is ideal and consists of a ban on plastic bags and a fee on all other bags. We look forward to working toward a hybrid model in New Jersey as well as addressing other sources of plastic pollution such as straws and polystyrene, but immediate action is needed now.
A strengthened version of the bill on Murphy’s desk will move our state forward. This bill represents real action to deal with a problem we’ve been talking about for years. We can’t afford to miss this opportunity to break the plastic habit. Our waterways and wildlife will thank us.