Lawmakers postpone vote on bill tweaking plastic bag ban

By: - November 22, 2022 6:23 am

Assemblyman John McKeon said he believes it is too early to make changes to the state's plastic bag ban, which went into effect about six months ago. (Dana DiFilippo | New Jersey Monitor)

The New Jersey Senate pulled a bill paring down the state’s disposable bag ban from its agenda Monday after Democratic senators requested changes that would require a new educational component and exempt food banks from the ban for years.

The proposed changes will likely keep the measure from reaching Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk before the year’s end, said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), the bill’s prime sponsor.

Since the bag ban went into effect in May, lawmakers have heard complaints from residents who say they accumulate reusable bags every time they have food delivered, a buildup that threatens to undercut the law’s goal of reducing plastic pollution.

As a fix, the bill that was going to be heard Monday would allow grocers or third-party delivery services to deliver food in cardboard boxes, reusable bags, or disposable paper bags made of at least 40% recycled materials for three years after its passage.

It would also require grocery stores or delivery services that use reusable bags for home deliveries or pickup orders to create programs to reuse or recycle those bags.

In the meantime, Smith suggested people with excess bags give them to charities.

“These bags are a lot more than welcome at a community food bank, and there’s a community bank probably within five miles or less of everybody in New Jersey. We have hundreds of them,” Smith said. “You’d be doing a mitzvah — a good deed — by donating them to the good bank.”

Food banks are not exempt from the bag ban, though the Legislature did approve a six-month delay for them to allow for a smooth transition. That grace period ended earlier this month, but the Department of Environmental Protection has sent letters to food banks saying it won’t seek to enforce the bag ban against them in the immediate future, according to Assemblyman John McKeon (D-Essex).

McKeon is the bill’s prime sponsor in the lower chamber, but he said it is too early to make changes to the plastic bag ban, noting that it went into effect just about six months ago.

“I don’t know that we gave it enough time,” he said Monday. “The point of the matter is that there was a commission in place. There was going to be some input. I’m hoping to give it some time to hear from them to see what they think is the best way for us to approach it.”

The bill’s Assembly version is not scheduled for a vote, and McKeon said it likely wouldn’t come before an Assembly committee until after the start of the new year.

The assemblyman again raised complaints about the food industry, saying they could have found a fix for grocery deliveries in the 18 months between Gov. Phil Murphy signing the bag ban and the prohibition taking effect.

“I would’ve hoped they might’ve had a solution in the queue already, but they didn’t, which is why I want to put our brakes on and put our thinking caps on,” McKeon said, adding he favored a solution involving reusable crates of some kind.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.