If legislators have their way, when New Jerseyans go shopping in the future, they may pay a small tax if they want their groceries packed in a paper or plastic bag.
In a move to curb plastic bags from littering the landscape and waterways, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee approved a bill (S-812) on Thursday, Dec. 20 that would impose a five-cent surcharge on consumers who fail to bring a reusable bag to their grocery or convenience store.
The move was opposed by manufacturers of plastic bags, who claimed stores already are voluntarily recycling plastic bags, which they and a member of the Senate panel argued constitute a minute portion of the litter that winds up in streets and waterways.
Environmentalists have long advocated such legislation, saying that plastic bags washing up in rivers and the ocean pose a big threat to marine life, such as sea turtles and birds, according to Zach McCue, citizen coordinator for Clean Ocean Action, a group dedicated to protecting coastal waters.
During the organization’s beach cleanup program, Clean Ocean Action picked up more than 8,000 plastic bags in just two days, McCue noted. “It will dramatically reduce the consumption of plastic bags,’’ he told the committee of its proposed bill.
Others questioned whether the bill addresses only a small portion of the litter problem.
“To me, a ban on plastic bags is just nipping at the edge,’’ said Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), the only member of the committee not to vote to move the measure forward. Instead, she abstained from the vote, adding, “I kind of think we are misguided here.’’
Beck noted the amount of plastic bags swept up in the annual beach cleanups by Clean Ocean Action ranked ninth among trash picked up by the organization
Keith Anderson, director of Washington D.C.’s District of the Department of the Environment, offered another view. Since the district imposed its own surcharge on plastic bags, there has been a 60 percent reduction in the number of bags winding up in its waterways, he said.
Anderson said the 5-cents surcharge on customers who still prefer plastic or paper rather than reusable bags has not proved burdensome to the public, but is still high enough to encourage consumers to use recyclable bags. He added that businesses said it has improved their bottom line by requiring them to buy fewer paper and plastic bags.
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