As we get ready to undertake Bridgeton’s semi-annual community clean-up for 2022 with the kick-off Saturday (March 26) at 9 a.m. at the Marino Center (11 Washington Street), my thoughts turn to the looming deadline of May 4, which is the date that New Jersey’s ban on single-use plastic carryout bags goes into effect. I’m talking about the plastic bags we’ve grown so accustomed to getting whenever we shop at supermarkets, convenience stores and similar retail businesses. Beyond the single-use bags, polystyrene foam food containers will also be banned.
Whatever sense of inconvenience I might feel the first 20 times I forget to bring my reuseable carry-out bags with me to the store, will hopefully be balanced by my satisfaction at not having to pick up an obscene number of the single-use plastic bags that have become the stock and trade of curb lines, storm drains, retention basins, and tree lines from one end of the community to the other.
I am also reminded that single-use plastic bags, like so many other plastic products, are not exactly biodegradable in the sense we think of something breaking down in the environment. Depending on conditions, a single-use bag could last two decades or more. So while the ban goes into effect on May 4, we’ll still be picking these things out of our hair, so to speak, in 2050. Go figure.
The May 4 deadline is quickly approaching and it is time that we change our behavior and expectations. That starts with purchasing reusable bags with handles. Reuseable carry-out bags should be made of polypropylene fabric, PET non-woven fabric, nylon, cloth, hemp, or other washable fabric and should have stitched (not glued) handles and be manufactured for multiple re-uses; by multiple they mean 125 uses.
Also kicking in on May 4 is the ban on polystyrene foam food service products. This ban prohibits all food service businesses and individuals from providing or offering the sale of any polystyrene foam food service products. However, exempted for the next two years are those disposable, long-handled polystyrene soda spoons used for thick drinks, portion cups of two ounces or less if used for hot foods or foods requiring lids, meat and fish trays for raw or butchered meat (including poultry), or fish that is sold from a refrigerator.
Enforcement has various layers. Apparently the DEP, municipalities, and any entity certified by the County Environmental Health Act have the authority to enforce the ban on single-use plastic carryout bags, polystyrene foam food service products and plastic straws. The law provides that any person or entity that violates the statute gets a warning first and after that fines can be $1,000 for a second offense and $5,000 for third and subsequent offenses.
For many, this will at first feel like a huge inconvenience. I understand that feeling but that’s only because of what we’ve gotten accustomed to doing over the course of our shopping lives. Once we develop a new set of habits and a new routine, we won’t think twice about utilizing reusable bags nor will we question the wisdom of doing so.
The bigger picture touches many things in our daily lives that lead back to climate change and global warming. It’s hard for us old heads to face this truth because it means that many of our everyday habits and routines turn out to be what caused so much damage. Perhaps the least I can do now is be inconvenienced while I develop new habits and routines without single-use bags.