SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Essex County Freeholder, environmental lawyer and 25-year South Orange resident Janine Bauer sees the potential New Jersey Bag Tax as an assault on municipal lawmakers. Bill A3267 would impose a 5-cent fee on single-use bags in chains or any store with retail space exceeding 2,000 square feet. It would also preempt New Jersey towns from enacting their own carryout bag legislation, Bauer said, meaning South Orange could not implement local single-use bag ordinances.

“It’s a very anti-democratic thing to do, to pass a law and say, ‘By the way, nobody else can try to have a better idea,’” Bauer said.

South Orange and Maplewood have previously combated plastic pollution with the SO Not Plastic Challenge, which encouraged residents to ditch single-use plastics for a week, and the annual South Orange River Day cleanup at Meadowland Park. Bauer served as a South Orange trustee and observed how residents care about the environment, she said.

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Large towns interested in bag ordinances would ultimately be hindered by the bill, Bauer said. Measures like Jersey City’s recent bag ordinance, which limits stores to solely providing reusable bags and recyclable paper bags, may suffer.

“Generally, we’re not the kind of state that discourages municipalities from experimenting with their own legislation,” Bauer said. “New Jersey municipalities are quite powerful on their prerogatives...that aspect of the bill was particularly irksome to me.”

The bill would also incentivize retailers to continue distributing plastic bags, she said. Stores would receive 1 cent out of every 5 cents taxed on consumers, providing an enticing new revenue from single-use bags. Plus, the other 4 cents should instead be funneled to plastic alternatives instead of the state treasury, Bauer said.

Bauer grew up reading Field & Stream Magazine and vacationing at camping sites and beaches. She went on to work as a New Jersey lawyer for the past 34 years, specializing in transportation, land use and environmental work. Her experience has affirmed the need for an outright bag ban, she said.

“Naturally, we don’t want to see more plastics. My kids’ kids will be seeing them and their kids’ kids will be seeing those plastic bags and bottles if we don’t provide a meaningful incentive for manufacturers to use non-disposable, more sustainable materials,” Bauer said.

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