TRENTON — Three months before New Jersey’s ban on plastic carrier bags in retail stores, restaurants and supermarkets goes into effect, lawmakers plan to make changes to free up grocery stores and food banks.
The law, which goes into effect May 4, is said to have its greatest impact on grocery stores 2,500 square feet or larger, which are also prohibited from offering single-use paper bags to customers. The plastic bag rule applies in restaurants, delicatessens, small grocery stores, convenience stores, food trucks, movie theaters, pharmacies, retail stores — and non-profit organizations.
“The bill was never intended to involve the food banks,” said Rep. James Kennedy, D-Union, chairman of the assembly’s environment committee, who voted to pass the bill. “The intent of the bill was to provide support to food banks at a time when they needed it most.”
Too early to make changes
Jennifer Coffey, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions, said the Legislature shouldn’t tinker with a law whose rules aren’t even fully laid out when the solution could be as simple as giving food banks reusable bags and allowing them to clarify you can use paper.
“The only place that has a plastic bag hanging from a fence post shouldn’t be in a low-income community,” Coffey said. “We should do this right.”
John Weber, Mid-Atlantic regional manager at the Surfrider Foundation, said cities that had already banned plastic bags before the state generally tried to accommodate lower-income residents by providing them with free reusable bags.
“We have a pantry in our town,” said Weber, who is also a Bradley Beach councilman. “They have been running a pantry without any plastic bags for years.”
Provide bags to pantries
Weber says pantries can ask for donations for reusable bags, just like they do for groceries. Also, the Plastic and Paper Bag Ban Act provides the Clean Communities Fund with $500,000 that can be used to provide reusable bags to people and organizations that need them.
“Pantries shouldn’t have to buy bags,” Weber said. “The state can step in and help.”
MP John McKeon, D-Essex, said his wife works one day a week each in food banks in South Orange and West Orange and that people who receive reusable bags generally don’t come back with them.
“But people come back because they’re hungry,” McKeon said. “So, I think with everything we’ve accomplished, this is just such a small component that it doesn’t open the door to a slippery slope. These are tablets.”
Which reusable bags can be sold?
The bill also expanded the definition of what counts as a reusable tote bag. Environmentalists were suspicious and hadn’t seen the details of the change, which was quickly endorsed by Michael DeLoreto, an attorney representing Papier-Mettler, a major plastic and paper bag maker.
DeLoreto said the company supports the law “simply because it addresses durability, reusability, recycled content, responsible and ethical manufacturing, and the adoption of a ‘cradle-to-cradle’ philosophy in manufacturing end-of-life processes.” concentrated.”
In particular, the permitted carrier bags that could be sold would be expanded to include those that are: made of low-density polyethylene with a minimum areal density of 120 grams per square meter; are made from at least 80 percent recycled material; have sewn handles; are capable of supporting 22 pounds a distance of 175 feet for at least 125 uses; and can be recycled into a new product without further chemical modification or treatment.
Michael Symons is the State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at [email protected].