NJ plastic bag ban: What you need to know about new law
When New Jersey’s plastic bag ban goes into effect starting this May, what should state residents expect?
James M. O’Neill and Michael V. Pettigano, NorthJersey.com
In August of 2015, marine biologist Christine Figgener filmed a video of her research team removing a plastic straw from the nostril of a live marine turtle in Costa Rica.
The heartbreaking and graphic video eventually went viral (it currently has 108 million views on YouTube) and helped propel the anti-plastic straw movement. To date, large companies such as American Airlines, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Starbucks have eliminated plastic straws.
“Ever since, the video has provided fuel for the anti-single-use-plastic movement,” Figgener wrote on her website.
April 22 is Earth Day, an annual global event which demonstrates support for environmental protection.
With New Jersey’s plastic bag ban going into effect on May 4, Earth Day may have even bigger meaning in the state this year. All retail stores, grocery stores and food service businesses are prohibited from using single-use plastic carryout bags and polystyrene foam foodservice products.
The state’s plastic bag ban legislation was signed into law in November 2020. Its intent was to phase out single-use plastic and paper bags and encourage the use of reusable bags.
It also bans paper bags at larger grocery stores and big box stores, such as Costco, Target, Walmart and others if they have large grocery sections of at least 2,500 square feet.
Since early November in New Jersey, food service businesses are only supposed to provide plastic straws upon the request of customers. That restriction was part of the broader state law.
According to Ocean Conservancy, a marine environmental advocacy group, scientists estimate that more than 11 million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean each year and “if we don’t act now, there could be a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the ocean within the next decade.”
It says plastic has been found in 59% of sea birds such as albatross and pelicans, and in 100% of sea turtle species. More than 25% of fish sampled from sea markets around the world have had plastics in them.
“When we move beyond single-use plastics, we can reduce our reliance on the fossil fuels that create plastic, remove a source of litter from our communities, and protect wild and marine life from the harm of ingesting or becoming entangled in plastic products,” NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Shawn M. LaTourette said in a press release.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that over 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year for use in a wide variety of applications, and that plastic makes up 80% of all marine debris found from surface waters to deep-sea sediments. Marine species ingest or are entangled by plastic debris, which can cause severe injuries and death, it says.
Plastic breaks down into small particles called microplastics, which have been found in tap water, beer, salt and are present in all samples collected in the world’s oceans.
Educating businesses, residents, customers
Bob Bergbauer, chair of Haddonfield Environmental Commission, knows these figures regarding plastics very well. His group has partnered with The Partnership of Haddonfield to disseminate information regarding the plastic bag ban and will host several Earth Day events.
“The bill was signed in November of 2020 – a lot of stuff has happened, namely COVID and a couple of other things since then, so we don’t expect that this is top of mind,” Bergbauer explained.
“Our first order of business in joining with the partnership was to make sure that we did the outreach to the businesses along the Kings Highway corridors and Haddon Avenue corridors in Haddonfield to make sure they were aware of what the requirements of the law were and also to provide them some information resources as to alternatives for the products that they no longer will be able to distribute or use in their businesses.”
The Earth Day bag giveaway event is April 22 from noon to 5 p.m. in Haddonfield’s Kings Court. Haddonfield Environmental Commission and The Partnership of Haddonfield, with help from sponsors, will give away 500 reusable totes as part of a campaign to bring awareness regarding the plastic bag ban.
They will hold a second event on April 23 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., also in Kings Court, Bergbauer said. This will be a broader Earth Day celebration, featuring information regarding other environmental issues beyond plastic.
“Typically we get a fair amount of foot traffic so it’s a really good chance for us to interact with the public and make sure we’re promoting awareness and doing what we can to educate the public with regard to burning or current environmental issues,” Bergbauer added. “The plastic ban is a big deal. There are numerous states that have plastic bans in effect or in process. New Jersey’s is probably one of the most comprehensive.”
As Earth Day approaches, here are 12 things you can do to help the earth:
1. Drink out of a reusable cup, jug or water bottle. I was recently gifted a HidrateSpark water bottle. It glows to remind you to drink. A week into it, it informed me I had saved the equivalent of a 24-pack of plastic bottles. I’m drinking a lot more water. It offers virtual medals and accolades for meeting goals. Plus, you can add your friends who have the app and even compete with them for daily goals. (As always, talk to your medical provider about healthy water amounts for your needs, as it is possible to drink too much water.)
2. Keep reusable tote bags in your car. Every time you go to a store, you’ll have your bags already and won’t have to purchase any.
3. Check out the app Too Good To Go, a certified B-Corp and tech-for-good company, which connects consumers to extra food that would otherwise be thrown away from local restaurants, cafes, bakeries and grocery stores. It works with over 100,000 partners globally and recently celebrated saving 100 million meals across 17 countries since being founded in 2016. Too Good To Go operates in South Jersey and Philly, and notes that one third of all f food is wasted.
4. With the super high gas prices, what about walking to places that are close enough or riding your bicycle? It’ll save you gas money, will cut down on pollution and be better for your health. Maybe it’s time to consider an electric car.
5. Don’t litter. Don’t throw your trash on the beach or in the streets or in the woods. First of all, somebody will end up cleaning up after you, but that trash can also end up in the sewer system or in the ocean.
6. Volunteer for a beach clean up day or neighborhood cleanup. There are plenty of opportunities for a day of service, particularly around Earth Day, but year-round. If you don’t know of one, perhaps you can create one as an activity with your church, Scout troop, sorority, fraternity or other group.
7. Participate in your town’s recycling programs. Don’t keep throwing recyclables in the trash. If your town doesn’t have a program, you can collect your own plastics and take them to a local recycling program.
8. Conserve energy by carpooling, making sure tires are properly inflated, and utilizing energy-efficient lamps, lightbulbs and other appliances.
9. Compost leaves, yard waste and compostable food waste.
10. According to kids.nationalgeographic.com, experts estimate that Americans use about 500 million plastic straws a day. They’re one of the top 10 trash items found during ocean cleanups. Find a paper version, make your own or reusable metal straw.
11. Educate yourself by reading, watching documentaries and other programs. Share information with others. Join the Green Team or environmental commission in your town or start one.
12. Wave bye-bye to balloons. Balloons are pretty and often are used to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions, but they’re not good for the environment and can end up in the ocean. They also can be mistaken for food by animals.
South Jersey Earth Day and environmental events
Dogtooth Earth Day Beach Cleanup: Dogtooth Bar & Grill in Wildwood is hosting a beach cleanup. Participants can meet on Mile Beach behind the Wildwood Beach Ball sign at 9 a.m. to grab your bag and gloves. Return your bags to their tent to receive your $10 gift card to Dogtooth Bar & Grill and meet back there for lunch. Registration is free. Go: Dogtooth Bar & Grill, 100 East Taylor Lane, Wildwood; eventbrite.com/e/dogtooth-earth-day-beach-clean-up-tickets
Earth Day bag giveaway event: Noon to 5 p.m. on Earth Day. There will be plenty of information regarding the state’s plastic bag ban. There will be a broader Earth Day celebration on April 23 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the same location where information will be provided about environmental issues. Go: Kings Court, Haddonfield; downtownhaddonfield.com/events/earth-day-bag-giveaway/
Galloway Green Market celebrates Earth Day: From 4 to 7 p.m. at Village Greene. There will be a native plant sale from local growers as well. Go: 615 E Moss Mill Road, UNIT 96, Smithville.
Atco Earth Day Celebration: From noon to 4 p.m., there will be food trucks, crafters, vendors and prizes. Tree seedlings will be given away courtesy of the Waterford Township Environmental Committee. Proceeds will support Waterford Township War Memorial Committee Fund. Go: American Legion Post 311, 2225 Atco Avenue, Atco; facebook.com/wtwmc/
Celebrate Trails Day: Meet up with The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy on the Merchantville Bike Path. Learn bike safety, sustainability tips and tricks, enjoy movement/exercise with Movement 4 Wellness and activities for the kids. There will be a special presentation at Eclipse Brewing. Go: Merchantville Bike Path, Chestnut Avenue, Merchantville, noon; camdencounty.com/event/celebrate-trails-day/
Deptford Earth Day cleanup: Volunteer opportunity with free T-shirt, snacks, refreshments, giveaways. Gloves, safety vest and supplies are provided. The time is 8 to 11 a.m. Go: Deptford Municipal Building, 1011 Cooper St., Deptford; jerseysbest.com/event/deptford-earth-day-cleanup/
Cape May County’s Earth Day celebration: From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Cape May County Park and Zoo in the field by the bandstand, there will be hands-on educational exhibits, children’s amusements, live entertainment, environmental eco-shops, scavenger hunt. The bandstand will feature the entertainment. Crafters, wares, and a food court surround the field. The event is free. Go: 707 Route 9 North, Cape May Court House.
Scotland Run Park: Exhibitors, environmental sustainability ideas and Gloucester County naturalist and Rowan professor Dr. Dan Duran will present a talk about regenerating the natural world starting with your own yard. Go: 980 E. Academy St., Clayton, noon until 4 p.m.; jerseyfamilyfun.com/event/earth-day-event
Atlantic County Utilities Authority Earth Day Festival: There will be lots of fun and educational activities and entertainment options. More than 150 vendors, crafters and exhibitors are expected at the rain or shine event, held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Go: ACUA Environmental Park, 6700 Delilah Road, Egg Harbor Township.
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