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N.J. plastic and paper bag ban fails as lawmakers can’t agree

ban plastic products

New Jersey lawmakers are still considering banning the plastic and paper bags many have used for years to carry groceries or takeout food home — but it’s not happening right away.

The state Senate voted Monday on an amended bill that would ban both single-use carryout plastic and paper bags, as well as Styrofoam cups and food containers, within two years. Also, restaurants would be allowed to give out plastic straws only if a customer asks for them.

But the state Assembly did not vote Monday on the latest version of the bill (S2776). Because New Jersey’s two-year legislative session ends at noon on Tuesday, the measure will have to be reintroduced and considered again in the next session.

Eight states and hundreds of towns across the U.S. — including dozens in New Jersey — have already banned single-use plastic bags. But a statewide ban in the Garden State has been more elusive.

Murphy vetoed a bill in 2018 that would have imposed a 5-cent tax on plastic and paper bags, saying it didn’t go far enough. Lawmakers have been debating this new bill since then.

An earlier version would have required stores and restaurants to stop giving out single-use plastic bags to their customers within a year, while paper bags and Styrofoam containers would be barred within two years.

State Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, introduced the amended version as a compromise. It would phase out plastic and paper bags simultaneously.

“The longer we wait, the more damage we do to the environment and to our public health,” Smith said.

The Senate approved the measure at the Statehouse in Trenton on Monday by a vote of 21-14 — the smallest threshold of votes needed to pass legislation.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney said he posted it because “we wanted to make our position clear” in the Senate.

Sweeney, D-Gloucester, called it “a reasonable compromise giving everyone two years to get in line.”

But two sources said leaders of the state Assembly and Gov. Phil Murphy’s office don’t agree with the new version of the bill.

The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the measure in public.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of environmental group the Sierra club, called the measure “the most comprehensive plastic bill in the nation.”

“The Assembly needs to act quickly because we cannot wait any longer,” Tittel addd.

More than three-quarters of the litter found on New Jersey beaches is plastic, according to data collected by Clean Ocean Action.


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