Commentary

Paper or Plastic? New Jersey’s Food Industry Says Reusable

By LINDA DOHERTY | Jul 24, 2019

With all the talk of banning paper and plastic bags in New Jersey, there’s plenty of confusion.

There are varying municipal laws, plenty of debate and now consideration in the state Legislature that could serve as a uniform solution to phase out both single-use disposable plastic and paper bags, while encouraging the mass use of reusable bags in New Jersey.

Last year, Gov. Phil Murphy vetoed a statewide bag fee program because he believed it did not go far enough to impose a universal ban. But the campaign continues.

Leaders in the food industry remain vocal advocates for promoting sustainability and environmental leadership; these are among the reasons why I serve as vice chair of the board of the New Jersey Clean Communities Council, a successful, reputable, statewide litter abatement initiative.

Over the past two years, we have watched various municipalities throughout New Jersey enact disposable bag bans and fees with different requirements, definitions and effective dates. This has created an onerous and unworkable thicket of local ordinances for retailers that have established businesses throughout the state.

Many of these ordinances have been focused on disposable plastic bags, but disposable paper bags also have a drastic environmental impact, as well as a higher cost than plastic bags.

Paper bags also require 10 times the number of trucks to deliver the same quantity of bags, resulting in increased truck traffic on our streets, diesel emissions in our air and a negative impact for all involved.

That is why our food retail members working in municipalities that have banned disposable plastic bags without addressing disposable paper bags are faced with much higher costs. Not only is the paper option more expensive, there is no incentive for shoppers to bring reusable bags.

Additionally, the increased use of paper bags will ultimately drive up the volume in municipal recycling programs and in the solid waste stream, both of which are facing increased costs, as well.

This means municipalities have to pay more for recycling and waste removal services, an easily avoidable expense that is being passed on to property taxpayers. Clearly, focusing solely on banning disposable plastic bags is more expensive for retailers, consumers and municipalities.

No one appears to be winning under the current scenario. Meanwhile, our carbon footprint is growing.

The New Jersey Food Council and like-minded partners are supporting a statewide legislative initiative to phase out the use of both plastic and paper disposable bags throughout New Jersey and further encourage reusable bags as a beneficial alternative.

We salute State Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), chair of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, for his ongoing fight to remove all single-use bags from the solid waste stream.  His proposed legislation would include food safety protections and provide, finally, a uniform policy for governing the use of disposable bags throughout New Jersey. No longer would there be different rules, based on different ZIP Codes.

We hope business, government and sustainability organizations all work together to educate consumers about the importance of advancing this effort and to advocate for a statewide solution.

In the interim, it is our hope that well-intentioned municipal officials refrain from passing local ordinances on single-use plastic bags, as there is already a burdensome patchwork of different local laws that must be untangled if this state legislation is adopted.

Together, let’s embrace this sound environmental policy that can be equally applied across New Jersey, our very own progressive approach to the disposable bag issue and support for reusable bags.

Linda Doherty is president of the New Jersey Food Council, a Trenton-based group that represents the interests of food retailers and their suppliers.

 

 

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