The New Jersey Assembly passed the nation’s most comprehensive plastics legislation on Sept. 24, 2020, sending a bill to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk that would ban single-use plastic bags and paper bags at large grocery stores, prohibit polystyrene foam containers at restaurants, and make plastic straws with meals by-request only, beginning in spring 2022.
What this means for the debate over plastic pollution
If approved by Gov. Murphy, the bill (A1978) would make the Garden State the fourth in the country to phase out foam food containers, joining Maine, Maryland and Vermont. New Jersey would also join a growing coalition of states that have rolled out plastic bag bans in the last six years. A “race to the top” dynamic could lead even more states to adopt stronger measures against plastic pollution.
“The New Jersey Assembly voted to pass the strongest single-use ban on plastics in the country to prioritize our wildlife and our communities over endless plastic waste polluting our waterways,” said Doug O’Malley, state director of Environment New Jersey, in a statement quoted by The Hill.
The legislation would be a milestone on the path to slashing plastic pollution in New Jersey. According to Clean Ocean Action’s 2019 Beach Sweeps report, plastic and foam waste accounted for more than 83 percent of the debris volunteers hauled away from New Jersey beaches last year. Among the 12 most prevalent items collected were those that New Jersey’s bill seeks to restrict: straws and stirrers (No. 4), foam pieces (No. 6) and plastic shopping bags (No. 10).
Limiting the use of polystyrene foam in particular will help protect New Jersey’s coast from plastic litter. Polystyrene (what most people call Styrofoam) is flimsy and breaks apart easily, making it more difficult to remove once it enters our environment and communities. In a study authored by the nonprofit NY/NJ Baykeeper that estimates 165 million plastic particles are suspended in New York and New Jersey’s Harbor Estuary waters, polystyrene foam made up 38 percent of the plastics discovered in water samples.
What environmental advocates and activists did to win
Winning A1978’s passage through the Assembly is a victory nearly three years in the making.
What happens next
Environment New Jersey is calling on Gov. Murphy to sign this sweeping legislation to cut down the plastic waste polluting the Jersey Shore, harming our state’s wildlife, and littering our neighborhoods — and to send a message to other states that they, too, can join our state in leading the drive to end plastic pollution.
“Plastic and polystyrene items we use for 15 minutes should not end up in our environment and communities for endless generations,” said O’Malley. “We urge Gov. Murphy to sign this legislation as quickly as possible.”