On January 14, 2020, an Act concerning single-use plastic carryout bags, single-use paper carryout bags, polystyrene foam food service products, and single-use plastic straws, supplementing Title 13 of the Revised Statutes, and amending P.L.2002, c.128, was proposed to the New Jersey State Legislature.

We are pleased to note that the Act, passed when Governor Murphy signed it into Law as “S-864,” and will go into effect in 18 months.

This exciting news was reported by the New Jersey Food Council, an organization that has continually advocated for a uniform statewide standard. “The NJFC applauded the State Legislature on their positive stand regarding the phasing out single-use plastic bags and encouraging the use of reusable bags in the state.As noted above, also included in the Bill is the prohibition of single-use paper carryout bags, polystyrene foam food service products, and single-use plastic straws.”

For your convenience, here is a brief synopsis of some of the key provisions and enactment dates of the legislation, which have been provided by NJFC:

  1. The Bill prohibits grocery stores, general retailers and restaurants from providing or selling single-use plastic carryout bags to customers, and additionally, grocery stores cannot provide or sell paper carryout bags while produce bags, newspaper bags, and soup bags are excluded, as are bags used to contain or wrap uncooked meat, fish, or poultry or solely to package loose items such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, grains, baked goods, candy, greeting cards, flowers, or small hardware items, as well as a bag used solely to contain food sliced or prepared to order, including soup or hot food  or, among other things, a bag used by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs.
  2. The Bill prohibits the sale or provision of polystyrene food service products with a longer phase-out period of three and a half years for certain products, including raw meat and fish trays and foods prepackaged by the manufacturer.
  3. The Bill provides that one year after enactment, plastic straws can only be provided upon request of a customer. Packages of straws and items like juice boxes may still be sold in stores.
  4. To minimize confusion, the Bill stipulates that municipalities and counties cannot adopt any new ordinances governing plastic and paper bags, polystyrene, and straws and reminds the community that ordinances already in effect will be superseded according to the various products’ phase out schedules.
  5. Additionally, the Bill has the power of enforcement, with applicable penalties that include a warning for a first offense, up to $1,000 for a second offense, and up to $5,000 for a third or subsequent offense. Penalties for violations will be deposited in the Clean Communities Program Fund, except that a municipality may retain 30 percent of any penalty it collects.

There are other aspects beyond these five key points that support the Bill and increase the chances for its successful adoption as law.

First of all, the Bill establishes a Plastics Advisory Council in the Department of Environmental Protection, whose members will monitor implementation of the law and evaluate its effectiveness. The Council will be comprised of 16 members, including four representing stores and food service businesses.

Secondly, the Bill provides that the Department of Environmental Protection will establish a program to assist businesses with compliance. This will include educational programs, public service announcements, and distribution of free reusable carryout bags through a partnership with the Clean Communities Program and $500,000 per year will go to this purpose for the first three years after the effective date of the Bill.

In conclusion, this Bill is, in part, the result of many years of hard work by the NJFC. The organization has been a strong and vocal champion regarding the abolition of the single use plastic bags and other similar products. Along with passage of the Bill, the NJFC also remains committed to ensure compliance in the community. As such, going forward, NJFC will be working with its members to implement their “Choose to Reuse” reusable bag public education campaign to encourage adherence.