TRENTON, NJ -- The State Legislature passed a measure on Thursday aimed at fighting widespread plastic pollution.  Sponsored by Senator Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer/Middlesex), it would prohibit businesses from using single-use plastic bags and other disposable containers if signed into law by Governor Phil Murphy.

“If you go to the shore, you see plastic buried in the sand and floating in the ocean. There are an estimated 150 million metric tons of plastics currently in our oceans and about eight million metric tons are added each year,” said Greenstein, vice-chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. 

The ban on plastic bags, paper bags, and polystyrene cups and containers would go into effect 18 months after the measure becomes law. The state would be required to establish a program to assist businesses in complying with provisions of the bill.

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Plastic straws would only be available upon request, with the goal of promoting paper straws.

Businesses in violation of the bill would be subject to a warning for a first offense, a fine up to $1,000 for a second offense, and up to a $5,000 fine for a third or subsequent offense. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), municipalities and counties certified under the County Environmental Health Act would all have the authority to enforce the provisions of the bill. All penalties collected would go to the Clean Communities Fund.

The bill requires the DEP to establish a permanent Plastics Advisory Council to evaluate implementation of the law annually, study the health impacts of plastics and alternatives to plastics, recommend ways to reduce the use of plastics and the amount of plastics entering the environment, and increase the rate of recycling.

In 2018, experts from various organizations, including Rutgers and Princeton Universities, participated in a joint committee meeting with the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee to discuss the issues of single-use plastics and plastic waste. One of the topics discussed was the dangers of microplastics. 

“We have heard from countless activists and residents around the state, and they have made it clear that they are sick of plastics polluting our ecosystem. Now that this bill is heading to the Governor, New Jersey is closer than ever to a cleaner, greener future," said Greenstein.

Studies have revealed that when plastics break down over time they become tiny microplastics that are mistaken for food by birds and marine life, and they are so prevalent that they have become a part of the food chain.

A similar law went into effect in New York State on March 1.

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