The Garden State is the first one to ban paper bags alongside their more criticized plastic counterparts.

By Mike Pomranz
September 25, 2020
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New Jersey isn’t the first state in the country to ban single-use plastic bags, but the Garden State is priding itself on what has been billed as “the strongest bag ban in the nation”—and the first to ban paper bags alongside their plastic brethren.

Yesterday, both houses of the New Jersey state government voted to pass the new legislation, with a spokesman for Governor Philip D. Murphy telling the New York Times that he intends to sign the rules into law. New Jersey will reportedly become the ninth state to pass a single-use plastic bag ban, though some of those have yet to officially take effect. However, what sets New Jersey’s bill apart is the breadth of its ban, which also extends to “single-use paper carryout bags, and polystyrene foam food service products.” Single-use plastic straws are also limited, requiring restaurants to only provide them by request. NJ.com points out that many parts of the state already have restrictions on these products, but this brings the ban statewide.

Food delivery during quarantine
Credit: yulkapopkova/Getty Images

“This bill is probably the strongest, most comprehensive bill in the nation dealing with plastics and packaging,” Jeff Tittle, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, which campaigned for the new regulations, told the Times.

The bag ban does offer exemptions in eight instances including bags for uncooked meat, fish, or poultry; “loose items such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, grains, baked goods, candy, greeting cards, flowers, or small hardware items;” live animals such as fish or insects sold at a pet store; “food sliced or prepared to order, including soup or hot food;” dry cleaning or other garments or laundry; prescription drugs; a newspaper; or anything “similar” as determined by officials.

Assemblyman Sean Kean, a Republican, reportedly opposed the timing of the Democratic-led bill, which comes in the middle of a pandemic that has already left restaurants struggling. “This is going to be our reward to them for enduring, since March, probably the worst business environment we’ve seen,” he said according to NJ.com. Indeed, some parts of the U.S. have temporarily reversed similar bans due to the coronavirus outbreak. However, in New Jersey, the new rules won’t take effect for 18 months.

Meanwhile, as expected, the addition of paper bags to the ban resulted in mixed responses. In a statement, the American Forest and Paper Association argued that choosing paper over plastic “is part of the environmental solution.” However, the New Jersey Food Council countered that the across-the-board ban offers a very clear initiative. “Without this ban, consumers would have simply moved to paper single-use bags, failing to address the underlying goal of reducing our reliance on single-use products,” President and CEO Linda Doherty said in a statement.