State to Ban Plastic Carryout Bags

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

It is one of those things that’s out there and you know it’s coming, but it somehow manages to sneak up on you anyway. I’m talking about New Jersey’s ban, which goes into effect May 4, 2022, on those single-use plastic carryout bags used in supermarkets, convenience stores and similar places of business. In addition to single-use bags, there is also a ban on polystyrene foam food service products.

We’ve known about this upcoming change for some time, but when it gets here, it will still take some by surprise, myself included. As someone who has spent a good deal of time picking up loose litter in my community, I wholeheartedly support seeing those single-use bags go the way of the buffalo. A not insignificant amount of the litter I’ve picked up over the years was in the form of those bags.

We also know that those bags are not exactly biodegradable and left to their own devices, a single-use bag might well take some 20 years to break down depending on conditions. Plastic being what it is, you can imagine the damage being done to marine life, whether these creatures are getting tangled up in the bags or simply ingesting the plastic.

For all those reasons, banning these single-use plastic bags is a necessary thing. Yet even as I say that, I know I’ll struggle with changing my behavior when the ban goes into effect. I will need to get used to carrying around reusable bags, probably made of hemp with handles. This will require getting enough of them and then remembering to bring them back out to my vehicle for the next trip to the grocery store.

I know at some point I’ll forget my re-usable bags and then I’ll wax nostalgic about the good old days. But on balance, I’ll remind myself that this ban is necessary because in terms of the environment, we’re at some sort of tipping point and we have about 10 years to get our collective house in order so that our grandchildren won’t curse us for being so damned reckless with their lives.

Re-useable carry-out bags must be made of polypropylene fabric, PET nonwoven fabric, nylon, cloth, hemp product, or other washable fabric, (e.g., RPET fabric, polyester, cotton, etc.); and these bags are to have stitched handles (traditional, conventional or ultrasonic stitching, T-shirt style are acceptable); and be manufactured for at least 125 reuses, but I’m hoping for more.

Consistent with all such regulatory efforts, there are certain exceptions and anyone wanting to examine these in more detail can do so by visiting nj.gov/dep/plastic-ban-law/docs/list-of-establishments-banned-items.pdf. In addition to bags, polystyrene foam food containers are also banned effective May 4, 2022 and like the single-use bags, there are exceptions that have been made.

May 4th feels like a long time from now, but it will come fast. Recently, it also occurred to me that at some point in the not-too-distant-future, I will have purchased or leased my last gas vehicle. While all-electric vehicles have the feel of being sometime in the future, I’m amazed at the progress that’s been made in the last 15 years.

All of these changes will require us to adjust and adapt. We can complain and grumble about the inconvenience of it all, but when all is said and done, perhaps we owe it to our young people to do what’s in our power to mitigate global warming and climate change—one bag at a time.

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Mayoral Musings