Plastic is an essential part of our daily lives. Since the discovery of plastic around 60 -70 years ago, plastic has many beneficial impacts on modern life including the development of computers, cell phones and advances in modern medicine and transportation. Nowadays, plastic can be found almost everywhere and in literally everything including oceans, parks, roadways, and our own front yards.

The conveniences of plastic have exacerbated plastic pollution across the globe. Many plastic products such as plastic bags, food wrappers and plastic straws are used for only minutes. However, they can survive in the environment for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, after a plastic bag breaks down it never fully biodegrades. Small plastic particles also known as micro plastics spread throughout water systems and other systems around the globe contaminating our air and water systems. These particles are too small to remove and harm the wildlife that exists in many different parts of the world.

It is no question that plastic pollution has become one of the world’s largest environmental concerns. Plastic poses a serious environmental threat to human health, ecosystems, economies, and all living organisms on Earth. On average, less than 10% of all plastics in the United States get recycled. Most plastic bags and plastic straws can’t be recycled which is why we often find them caught in the ocean or in trees around us.

Unfortunately, there are many animals and sea organisms that either ingest or entangle themselves in plastic bags, straws, and other plastic products. The Natural Resources Defense Council suggests that eight million metric tons of plastic find its way into the world’s oceans’ every single year. This is equivalent to two Empire State Building’s worth of plastic going into the ocean every month. The solution to preventing waste pollution is simple – stop using single-use plastics in our daily lives.

New Jersey Plastic Bag Ban

Given the location and dense population of New Jersey, the Garden State is disproportionately impacted by plastic pollution. NorthJersey.com posted an article stating more than 80% of litter picked up at annual beach cleanups from Cape May to Sandy Hook by volunteers for Clean Ocean Action has been plastic in recent years. As plastic manufacturing increases across the globe, it is our individual responsibility to lessen our use of single-use plastics and reduce plastic waste.

In November of 2020, New Jersey was the first state in the nation to offer a direct solution to tackle the plastic problem head on. Almost a year ago, New Jersey made history by approving the nation’s most wide-ranging ban on single use plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene food containers and other products made from Styrofoam.

What Are the Paper and Plastic Bag Ban Details?

Great question! This law will prohibit the sale of single-use plastic carryout bags, paper bags and limit the use of plastic straws in retail establishments. All retailers including fast food restaurants and supermarkets will be unable to provide single-use plastic bags and polystyrene containers. The law also says that retail establishments that are larger than 2,500 square-feet are not permitted to distribute paper bags. This law applies to grocery stores, restaurants, delis, coffee shops, convenience stores, food trucks, movie theaters and cafeterias including those operated by government agencies. Places that violate the ban are subject to fines that could cost up to thousands of dollars.

To help New Jerseyans acclimate to a life without plastic bags and other plastic products, the State will fund educational campaign that provides free reusable bags to all New Jerseyans. Additionally, the new law restricts food-service businesses from providing plastic straws unless specifically asked which will be implemented starting November 4th, 2021. Below are products that are exempt from the plastic bag ban:

  • Bags wrapping raw meat
  • Polystyrene butcher trays
  • Bags used for loose items like produce
  • Bags that hold fish and insects from pet stores
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Newspaper bags
  • Bags carrying prescription drugs

Local Government Leads the Fight Against Plastic Pollution

Cities, towns and counties across New Jersey have been passing restrictions on plastic bags, straws, and polystyrene food containers well before this legislation came to fruition. Hudson County Improvement Authority serves as a vital role in educating residents and businesses about resources and information that can help people prepare for the plastic bag ban and straw restrictions. Since the legislation was signed into law, HCIA has conducted outreach to all recycling coordinators in every municipality in Hudson County to ensure this network is prepared to inform residents and businesses that reach out for guidance. HCIA actively participates in county and resource fairs where they provide reusable bags, bamboo straws and even bamboo toothbrushes to equip residents for the ban next year. Additionally, HCIA partners with other community organizations like the Special Improvement District for Central Ave and New Jersey Clean Communities to implement local and statewide education campaigns to ensure residents and consumers have the resources they need to visit stores and restaurants once the plastic bag ban is in place. Resources such as the New Jersey Business Action Center and Department of Environmental Protection are armed with tons of information for residents or businesses to transition out of plastic products. Find more information about these services here.

BAG UP New Jersey!

Fortunately, the New Jersey Clean Communities Council is leading a statewide outreach campaign to help prepare people across New Jersey for the plastic and paper bag bans. This campaign helps to educate and remind consumers about their options for sustainability before leaving their homes to head to a business without plastic bags. New Jersey Clean Communities is also reminding constituents about their options when it comes to recycling other plastics we may use at home. Just recently, NJ Clean Communities and other organizations including the New Jersey Business Action Center held a virtual meeting aimed to prepare local business owners for the upcoming plastic and paper bag ban and straw restrictions. The Hudson County Improvement Authority will continue to work with organizations like New Jersey Clean Communities to roll out alternative options to plastic and paper bags and straws and educate residents across the State to prepare for this exciting moment in history.

Moving In a Sustainable Direction

There’s no doubt that the historic New Jersey plastic bag ban will curve plastic pollution throughout the State. However, plastic products will continue to exist! It is our individual responsibility to reduce our use of plastic and prevent plastic from entering environments and ecosystems.

As businesses across the State prepare to transition out of using single use plastic bags, paper bags, plastic straws, and polystyrene food containers you should challenge yourself to do the same! One way to reduce your carbon footprint is to use alternative options to the traditional plastic straws and bags. Items such as steel straws, bamboo straws, paper straws, reusable water bottles, recyclable bags and straw-less lids are all sustainable options to transition to in absence of plastic options. Introducing a recycling system in your home and business is also another great option to reduce the number of natural resources being consumed. Most recently, some companies have rolled out alternative options to plastic bags such as reusable plastic bags made of wax paper to keep food safe and reduce the number of plastic bags in landfills and environments.

It will be hard at first to transition to more sustainable and alternative options of plastic since we have been dependent on plastic for so long. Nonetheless, utilizing the many resources and educational organizations, like the HCIA, raises awareness around the importance of moving in a more sustainable direction. Making small necessary steps to reducing our consumption of plastic will have a lasting impact to the world around us.

   

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